Leading with your ears

In this blog, it’s all about how you replace frustration and stagnation with success and progress by listening well, by leading with your ears.

If you want to lead others to maximum performance with fun as a Lead Wolf, then you have to ask good questions and listen really well. When you think of all the leaders you’ve met so far, how many of them were good listeners? Most people can count these on the fingers of one hand. You too?

When entering a job, my predecessor once told me the sentence, “Stefan, God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth. Use them in this order and proportion.” BOOM! What a sentence! This man knew from experience that you lead by asking. One of the most important things a Lead Wolf can give to the colleagues they lead is their attention. Listening well, ensures a good balance between freedom and control.

But why do we talk so much?
There are people who basically talk for themselves and feel good afterwards enjoying their own entertainment. They often don’t realise that nobody said anything besides them. And if these people listen to you, they do so often only to be able to speak again as quickly as possible. They don’t listen, they wait to speak.

We like to hear our own voice, it calms us. We often think we lead when we talk. Some talk because they are afraid of losing control of the conversation. Some may just be too uncomfortable to listen, because listening requires you to have to think about what you hear. It seems easier to talk than to listen.

Some people talk because they think “something is missing, I’ll tell them,” and then they might mistakenly believe that if the other person does not interrogate, that that signifies agreement, or they are excited by what’s been said. Their silence encourages people such as this to keep talking.

If you do a lot of talking, problems can occur. It can create ambiguity and misunderstandings, because those listening get tired, misunderstandings begin to arise because people stop asking or simply switch off. Expectations begin to diverge, results are effected and both sides become disappointed. It can lead to demotivation and even complete avoidance because endless monologues degrade the other to a position of passive recipient.

Why is listening often better than talking?
Listening shows respect and sincere interest. It evens the relationship of both participants. Listening shows appreciation. It gives freedom to show the view of the other.

You can listen well or poorly. An example of bad listening: Once I took responsibility for two big brands and several employees, but I got a really bad handover from my predecessor. He did not sit with me and did not look at me. He sat 90 degrees sideways to me and typed emails while he talked with me about the handover. He did not listen at all and did all the talking himself, checking off his points. I found it so outrageous that I asked him if he wanted to waste our time or make a reasonable handover. That was one of the most disrespectful situations I have experienced in my professional career. I am sure you do it differently. Be fully present, listen carefully!

Good listening creates motivation. For example: When I was Europe-wide manager, for my first visit to one of our largest countries, the local managing director led me to more than 20 individual employees at their workplace. He introduced me to each and every one of them and asked, “what are you working on right now?” This question and sometimes a second question showed his genuine interest in what his employees were doing. You could feel how this genuine interest motivated his people.

Good listening motivates and can move others from duty to desire. If we want to tease out of others their full potential, we must motivate them to open up. This works best with good questions. As we talk, others keep on receiving and gradually closedown. If we ask, we allow others to keep opening up. That’s why one guiding principle for effective leadership is leading through questions and listening.

Based on my 25 years in leadership roles, here are my 4 best tips, for leading with your ears:

1. 100% attention

Be present, be 100% attentive. Listen carefully, not with the intention of quickly speaking again, but with the intention of really understanding the other. Avoid distractions, put away your smartphone, close the door and be fully with the other and their perspective.

So: 100% attention.

2. Put the other in the foreground

If you, as the Lead Wolf, want to motivate the other to maximum performance, then do not talk about yourself. Put the other and his point of view in the foreground. Limit your speech, say what you need to, for example, delegate a challenging project, clearly state the goal, declare the result you want to achieve and the quality and timeframe, then stop talking! Ask good questions such as, “what does the result have to be like so you are really proud of it?” Or, “what do you need to look for to get a good result?”, “What is important for success?” Or simply, “do you have questions?” All of these are open questions that emphasise the other’s view.

So: Do not talk about yourself and how you would do it. Place the view of the other in the foreground.

3. Think, ask, be silent, listen

To ask a good question is a challenge. Therefore, take the time to think briefly and clearly which question is most valuable now. Then ask it and be silent. Give the other time to think about what he wants to say, and do not fill gaps in conversation. Just shut up and listen. If several things are going through your mind, ask yourself if it’s even worth the question.

So: First think, then ask, then be silent and listen.

4. Clarity through summary by the other

When you as Lead Wolf listen to what the other says, you create clarity. When the other one is speaking and you are listening you can hear if the other person has the same understanding as you. Have you ever experienced what happens when a meeting is not summarised? Exactly! Misunderstandings arise all over the place and cost unnecessary time and money.

At the end of a conversation it is therefore helpful to ask the other one to summarise. Only then does clarity emerge. Otherwise, you run the risk of falling into the very trap many people fall into – a black hole of assumptions. We assume that the other has taken the same thing from a conversation as we did. And this assumption is often wrong.

Therefore: Clarity through summary by the other.

Summarised, my 4 best tips for guiding with the ears:

1. 100% attention
2. Put the other in the foreground
3. Think, ask, be silent, listen
4. Clarity through summary by the other

Thank you very much for your time and attention,
your Lead Wolf Stefan

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