3 Ways You Can Be a More Effective Leader
Think you’re a good listener? These 3 tips may surprise you.
Recently, my colleague Rick and I were chatting about his sales team. When I asked how they were doing, he let out a big sigh and said, “Well, if they could listen as well as they hear, we’d be golden.” His sales leaders were so anxious to let potential clients know about all of the great deals they had done that they a) talked only about themselves (b) forgot to ask any questions and (c) seemed surprised to find out what the client really wanted.
Does this sound familiar to you? Here are 3 ways you can improve your listening skills and be an even better leader, including an exercise you can use with your own leaders back in your office (aka your home office).
3 Ways You Can Be a More Effective Leader – Pay Attention
Have you ever had an employee, a client or a customer who just wants to vent? Of course, we’ve likely all had this experience. The issue here is that just as often, we want to fix the problem and get it over with, or we fill the conversation with our own experiences. Note: this can wind up actually just filling airspace. It can be tough not to jump ahead- if we’re not paying close attention, our brains (and our voices) may be thinking about what we want to say, rather than what we need to be hearing.
Here’s an example that’s real-estate related but applicable to leaders in every business:
I was invited to sit in on a property pitch not long ago- where a real estate management company planned to offer their services to a property owner. The owner had let everyone know in advance that personalized service and detailed knowledge of the property were of the utmost importance to them in selecting a provider. The management company planned to showcase a manager they had in mind for the project. His leader knew the manager was extremely busy and that he was sometimes nervous in presentations.
The leader felt no extra coaching was needed, because after all, this was a star manager who was well-seasoned and very knowledgeable. There was just one thing: right out of the box, the owner asked the manager what he thought of the property (Translation: what were the problems and how could his company help solve them). And right out of the box, he blurted out that he hadn’t seen the property and had not had time to look at any related materials. (Translation: not a good idea).
What was the problem?
On the surface, the manager didn’t do his homework and he didn’t rehearse. More importantly, he and the company weren’t paying attention: the owner described what they wanted- all they needed to do was listen up.
Do these 3 things back in your office
Cultivate open discussion
Jane is a local leader who successfully manages several clients. However, she’s been concerned about one particular client who has been increasingly focused on smaller details and micro-management. She knows that the company focuses on achieving high client retention rates. She is worried because she thinks this particular client may cancel their contract. What does she do?
Ideally, Jane will feel confident enough to approach her supervisor- sooner vs. later. In reality, Jane could feel that her acknowledgement that a client relationship may be tilting sideways means her job is at risk. Here’s the critical part: our job as leaders is to create confidence and a safe place for our teams and our clients to bring up concerns.
You can do this by establishing and conveying to your employees and your clients that you’re authentically interested in what they have to say and are tuned in to what they want. It’s a whole lot easier to discuss ideas and solutions on the front end. In Jane’s situation, a weekly check-in or a personal call or note from her supervisor could make all the difference. There’s a tipping point for everything: even a small change counts.
Check their body language- and your own
You may be wondering what body language has to do with listening. Here’s the news: experts say it can be almost equally important. And in today’s virtual world, it’s not as easy to pick up on non-verbal cues as it is in person.
Here’s the key: sometimes it’s just as important to listen to what people don’t say. I like to think of it this way- when you enter a room or a meeting (virtually or physically), there are people who will be on your side from the get-go. There are some who won’t be on your side. The rest- those in-between- are the fence-sitters. It’s your job to convert the fence-sitters.
Read the Room
This is a great exercise with four easy steps to try back in your office; it works both in-person or virtually. It’s designed to help you gauge how well you and your leaders can “read” body language (if you need help or have questions, just call me or reach out via messaging here in MailChimp). I promise you, it will be both fun and illuminating!
1. Break your team into small groups (2-3 people each is ideal), with each person taking a turn (they will rotate).
2. Person #1 will speak to the others on any topic they want for one minute- only they must speak completely in gibberish. (So, this doesn’t mean another language).
3. While Person #1 is talking, Person #2 (and #3, if applicable) must try to determine what that person is talking about- because the conversation is in gibberish, this means they will need to try to glean clues from body language, eye contact and tone of voice.
4. Persons #2 and 3 (the listeners) then give Person #1 their feedback. It’s also helpful for Person #1 (who did the talking) to provide feedback on how they felt trying to be understood. Follow by having each person in the group take a turn.