“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen Covey
It’s become even more critical today for leaders to listen. Why now you may ask? Leadership has become even more complex and will become more so (if that is even possible!) with the potential to now manage four generations in the workplace. Something that leaders before us haven’t had to do. So we are the pioneers in managing a complex web of needs, wants and motivations that these different generations present.
If you’re not a people leader this is not the time to switch off! You aren’t immune to this as your stakeholders, clients and service providers will be a mix of generational delights so it’s important for you to understand who you are dealing with also to influence great outcomes.
All too often leaders feel the need to interject with their opinions thoughts and feedback before people have even finished their sentence believing it’s their role to lead the conversation. Have you experienced the person who constantly cuts you off even before you have finished what you are saying? I find it annoying and quite disrespectful. And needless to say this isn’t limited to leaders however leaders have such can impact on people in either a negative or positive way hence my focus.
In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey emphasizes the importance of being sure you understand what others are saying before you interject your thoughts and opinions into a conversation. And here lies the challenge, sometimes the older generation doesn’t understand (or believes they don’t) the younger generation and visa versa so free flowing conversations can be cut prematurely. More often than not from my observations this happens with the older generation more often than the younger. So people aren’t learning, collective intelligence across the generations isn’t being leveraged and collaboration can be a rather silo approach.
For leaders of any generation to really understand the people they are dealing with at a deeper level, they must step back and listen to what is being said, how it’s being said and why it’s being said. We need to disrupt our thinking around this often unconscious bias that ‘more experience’ if often the superior. We now need to accept we can learn and learn a lot from the younger generations coming through our business and given these people will be our future leaders, it’s actually in our best interest to understand how they tick. They may be our boss one day!
In his book ‘Serve to Be Great’ Matt Tenney explains that a leader who listens more than they talk create an empowered workforce. He goes onto explain Ted Prince from the Perth Leadership Institute believes that leaders should speak at most “10% of the time – primarily to ask questions.” You need to maximize feedback to reach worth solutions. Expressing your opinion too soon can stifle honest responses. And let’s face it honest responses are what we need to guide business but it can also be uncomfortable to hear.
It’s time to challenge our leadership paradigms about how much we believe we should speak, where we believe the real intelligence value lies between generations and step back and listen. As Matt Tenney also highlights, ‘Leadership means a commitment to others, not a job title or a measure of power.’ If we are to be truly committed to our people, we need to embrace everything about them and step back into a place of learning and listening. This is one of the most powerful ways we can be a relevant leader across the generations.