Engaging Leaders Listen For the Truth

We all know how critical good listening skills are to be highly effective leaders. Most important is a leader’s ability to Listen for the Truth.When leaders commit to listening at these heightened levels transformational changes take place. Trusting relationships are created. The organization engages at a higher level. A company’s culture becomes stronger. And all the answers inside of your organization are revealed.An engaging leader who best exemplifies for me what it means to “listen for the truth” is Paul Davis. Paul was previously Starbucks President of Retail and today is the CEO of Coinstar. I’ve always marveled at Paul’s uncanny knack to quickly put his finger on the pulse of an organization and understand the company’s driving force. I vividly remember my first meeting with Paul after he joined Starbucks. As I prepared for my meeting I put together a massive binder filled with information about my business. After only ten minutes of reviewing the information with Paul he stopped me and casually said – “Mark, why don’t you put the binder down and tell me what is on your mind. What is your big idea?” Both the question he asked and how he engaged me in the dialogue challenged me to think at a deeper level. His approach created a feeling of trust and allowed me to share my thoughts openly. As important, he challenged me to take ownership of my idea and to act upon it with immediacy. Through this experience Paul role modeled the difference between “pulling the brilliance out of others rather than showing brilliance themselves.”

When I asked Paul a few years later how he is able to quickly understand what matters most, he shared the following with me:

“As a leader the most important thing you can do when you first join an organization is to listen for the truth. Don’t judge. Instead, be open and curious. Don’t walk by those in your organization that are most ticked off. That is often times where the truth lies. Keep looking, keep asking, keep listening and the truth will be revealed. And when you know the truth, when you know the direction to go, you have the responsibility as a leader to act on the truth.”

So what can we all learn from Paul’s example and engaging leadership style? What do highly aware “outsiders” do first when they join a new organization? First, they go into the organizations and they ask great questions. For them everything is new and nothing is automatic. They don’t know who is important and who isn’t. They don’t pretend to understand the culture and how things get done. They don’t assume they know what has been bottled up, what things are bubbling below the surface and what the big opportunities are that need to be uncorked. More important they intensely listen to what people throughout the organization want to share – even those who are ticked off and fed up.

YOUR TURN: The bottom line is when you listen for the truth you will uncover the issues long before they become problems. You will see opportunities long before your competition. You strip away the noise and clutter and focus the organization on the few things that will have the greatest impact. Most importantly, you will engage the hearts and minds of your most important asset – your people.

Making the decision to be a better listener is a good first step. Next, choose one aspect to work on and to master. Here are a few areas to consider in your own journey to become an engaging leader who “listens for the truth”:

  • To gain understanding, lead with questions, not answers. – Use open-ended questions to engage others. So what is on your mind? What should we be worried about? What is your big idea ☺? 
  • Create a climate where the truth is heard and where brutal facts are confronted – Be curious and don’t judge. Focus on learning, not on finding fault and blaming.
  • Refuse to be “the answer-man.” Rather engage your team in dialogue and debate. – Give others the space to think out loud and talk.
  • And when you know the truth and know what needs to be done – be fearless and act.

Starting tomorrow why not allow yourself to act like that newly hired “outsider” once again and to listen, learn and lead at an even higher level?


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