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  • Writer's pictureDirk Baerts

Stop talking, start listening (to your people)

“Being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader; you have to listen to the people who are on the front line.” This is a quote attributed to Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. Unfortunately, some managers or leaders are good talkers, but don’t take the time to listen, thereby missing out on the opportunity to learn about their business & (from) its people.

A leader’s role is to create purpose, decide between strategic options, and set the direction for the organization. Once that has been done, the main task for any leader is to provide advice, guidance, and support to the various teams within the organization. The “support” aspect actually applies to any people or team manager for that matter, not just to a business leader.

In a past blog, I wrote about the power of the 1/1. I still consider this approach as the most effective ways to interact with any team, as it allows for open, assertive, and direct communication. It creates room for a leader to listen & ask questions, to directly capture valuable information about company, staff, clients, suppliers & industry, and to get a better feel for the health of the organization. It also provides the team members the opportunity to ask advice about possible ideas or solutions they are working on. The business leader brings the advantage of providing a different perspective on the situation, by offering a broader view, or “connecting the dots”, so to say, between the various departments.

I have always used one golden rule for 1/1 conversations: “don’t come to me with your problems, bring me what you think is the solution”. This serves various purposes:

  1. It forces the team member to think beyond the problem and figure out solutions in their area of expertise. The reason they are in the role is because of their skills and experience, so they are expected to be the experts. The team manager can have the knowledge but does not have to be the subject matter expert. And she/he should not be, because, if the manager is more knowledgeable and better capable at handling role-specific issues than the responsible team member, and continuously jumps in to fix the issues, then at least one of the two is in the wrong role. It sounds obviously, but this “behavior” can be observed in many teams and is sometimes even (wrongly) promoted.

  2. Given the different perspective, it allows for the manager to “play devil’s advocate” and try to poke holes in the solution. When unable to do so, one can be certain the solution will stand and deliver the expected results.

  3. Most likely, if this method is employed across the organization, so also when meeting with team members who are people-manager themselves, it is fair to expect that most, if not all, people-managers will use this methodology with their teams, thus organically building a problem-solving and innovating company culture.

The one-on-one time should be dedicated to the team member, not the manager. The team member should get the main part of the agenda, and when there are no topics or nothing is to be reported, she/he should even have the authority to cancel the meeting. Meeting for the sake of meeting is just a waste of time, something both parties usually are very short of.

When having group meetings, listening, and paying attention to the conversation is even more important. But given the larger group, it is beneficial to set & send out an agenda beforehand, so the team can prepare, and the meeting follows a predetermined flow. Otherwise, there is the risk of a few of the same people taking over the meeting every time, and thus losing the engagement of the remaining team members. The leader’s role in a group meeting is to keep the meeting on track and on time, yet mostly be a very attentive listener. Unless the meeting is about the company’s strategic direction or initiatives, the leader could dedicate a little time to discussing company progress, accomplishments and possibly challenges, but then have the group take over the conversation to discuss their area-specific topics & challenges.

Listening is one of the most valuable skill sets for a business leader to be able to capture valuable information and include it in future decisions. Or as the Dalai Lama once said: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new”.

I2ACT Canada has years of experience in leading & guiding teams, and creating a environment conducive to open and assertive conversations, based on the I2ACT management philosophy. We can actively assist your organization in strengthening your teams and improving the leadership skills of your management teams. If you want to learn more about the I2ACT philosophy and the services I2ACT Canada can offer your organization, visit the website or contact Dirk Baerts.

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