Listening and leadership

Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler Corporation, said “I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”

We know that listening is an important skill for leaders to master, yet on a good day experts suggest that we only hear 25% of what people are saying. How many of your days would you describe as good for listening to your people? Deadlines, meetings, phone calls, emails, instant messages, and texts distract us. Students, community members, the press, our families all can take our attention away from actually listening to the people on our teams. It is hard to listen!

I know that I have attended many more workshops focused on public speaking, crafting my message, how to write an effective memo, or now days how to perfect my tweeting and social media presence than programs on how to listen effectively.

At MnSCU we use a tactical model to help leaders develop their listening skills and I would like to share it with you. It provides a basic framework and breaks listening down into three components.

First, Stay Focused. Ideas include:

  • Minimizing distractions by turning off your cell phone, closing down your laptop or computer
  • Scheduling time to talk
  • Moving your chair to face each other, going to a quiet space, or removing other distractions
  • Focusing on the message not past personal history or expected outcomes
  • Focusing even if it is bad news

Second, Capture the Message.

  • Remaining open to the speaker’s message
  • Giving enough time for the speaker make their point
  • Clarifying the speaker’s message with questions
  • Taking notes, documenting ideas or a summary of the conversation

And finally, Help the Speaker.

  • Giving supportive nonverbal and verbal cues
  • Avoiding distracting behavior
  • Assuring people that you want to hear what they are saying

It looks simple but I know that in the chaos of day-to-day leadership taking a moment to stay focused, capture the message and be prepared to help out the speaker has helped me be a more effective listener and a better leader.

Todd Thorsgaard


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.