Hands up if you have ever had a one on one with your manager only to sit their and go (god dam it I wish he/she would just shut up). I recall working for a guy many years ago who lets just say loved the sound of his own voice. Nothing was too much trouble for him to interrupt somebody else who was mid flow only to say something that was either not necessary or was an attempt to over-ride that person’s thought. The environment was to say the least toxic, no new thoughts, ideas or concepts could be chaired. It was an environment that was do what I say (and thankfully not what I do)!!! Me and a few others talked about this and in meetings would just simply sit their for around an hour why his lordship just blubbered on and on and on and on. Thoughts started to leave the room quicker than a leopard chasing it’s dinner. Nobody wanted to say anything because in our minds he had all the answers! How great that place could have been, some amazingly gifted professionals have since moved on and I’m confident his lordship is still talking talking talking!
In my coaching work the executive who I am coaching involves his/her manager, when it’s the CEO it’s typically the Chairman/women of the organisation or a Board member. The purpose of having the CEO’s leader involved in the coaching journey is to bring another viewpoint into the coaching work. The Chair or the Board person will be closer to the daily action than I am as an external executive coach and when the CEO is creating their Individual Leadership Development Plan (ILDP) which is part of our coaching work together, it’s vital to bring those of the business ‘needs’ in with the CEOs development plan. They tie together well. A CEO ws working with me last year and part of his development plan was getting ‘better’ around the numbers. He was not from a financial background but his Group CEO felt if he could unlock that ‘cell’ get more confident presenting the numbers his growth would be achieved quicker. So the CEO and I worked on this area and following our last mini-survey out the feedback on the CEO’s development around financial decision making was very high.
One observation I had with that same CEO and Group CEO was how the Group CEO very rarely spoke. In our 3 way meetings the CEO would lead and the Group CEO would quietly and intensely listen. He was a young Group CEO and over the year of getting to know him we spoke outside of the coaching work I was doing with his CEO. I wanted to understand his approach to leadership and how he operates. My work is fascinating and I get to learn so much from others. The Group CEO (*let’s call him Dave for now) shared many stories with me and one that made a real impact on his executive leadership. Nick I once had a boss call me into his room, and this was his message ‘Dave your talking to much – you have lost the room and you are losing trust with your people, shut up’
Feedback is vital to anyone’s development and sometimes the blunt feedback makes the most lasting difference in a positive way. Dave took that feedback away and for a few days he said I was gutted, I thought Nick my job was to have all the answers | make all the decisions | drive people forwards etc but I was completely wrong. We had hired a talented group of people and I as I reflect back to that time was the handbreak. I was chocking the room and drowning out any ideas, any flow and any suggestions that would quiet possibly be better than my own ideas. Dave from that moment on made a point of letting go of the floor, letting go of having to come up with all the ideas and suggestions. Sure their were times when he had to step in and say team I’ve heard enough this is what we will be doing!
Dave always wanted to be a fighter pilot but eye sight failed him. He took his calm approach into his leadership work and whenever he holds a one on one he would listen intensely and be 100% present. All Dave has on his desk when I observed him was piece of paper and a pen. No phone, no laptop, no ‘distractions’ and on his page was a simple message.
“I must listen to other person and help them come to their own decission’‘
How powerful is that, how bold is that and how different might that be to your one-on-ones.
Here are some other observations that I have seen in action and believe will really help and support you in your work.
Not talking when others are speaking
Letting the other person or group know your listening through your own body laungage (a bit harder today with Zoom meetings but be aware of that)
Interact with the other person or group by encourgaing active conversations
Keeping your language simple (remember Dave’s boss earlier!)
Make suggestions but try and fall short of telling the other person what he or she must do.
Follow up. Post meeting think about how you as the leader can encourage the results to happen (be supportive)
Get out of the way!
When you are leading people, organisations you must appreciate that you will make mistakes. You have to allow other to share their thoughts ideas (why) well you hired them into those seats and they should be smarter than you and therefore have better outcomes. Your job as the leader is to ensure you are helping your people to make decisions.
Most of us may well think we are good listeners, most of us are more likely to stop short rather than push harder on this key discipline. Here is a test for you. In your next one-on-one time how long of that meeting you talk and how long the other person talks. Review your results. When I compare to the listing approach that Dave has in his meetings he would speak 8mins of an hours one on one 8 mins would be his go to number. To me that is quality leadership, it doesn’t mean he is shirking his job or responsibilities rather he is allowing his team member the space to breath and be themselves. He is supporting and nurturing the person (and whilst he doesn’t realise it he is allowing his people to take ownership of their domain) and that team is leadership right their – allowing others to do their job!
I am sure their are many other characteristics and examples of why it’s so important to listen to your people and why great leaders hone in on this area.
Being a leader is not and will not be about having all the answers, hire the right people in to the right job and then support them do their magic.
Yours in coaching