Leadership, Leading People Series

Leading People Series – Part 4 – Listen First

Leading People Series – Part 4

People modelIn the Leading People Series, we’ll examine some key points to consider when leading people.  Part 4 is about the need for a leader to listen first, then ask how you can help.

So being self-critical, I have some work to do on this one!  Ok, maybe a lot.  Nevertheless, I do believe that as leaders we need to listen first to our team, and then ask how we can help.  I was reminded by another leader recently the importance of this when I was expressing frustration over someone not taking advice or feedback as well as I had hoped.  The other leader said to me, “Did you ask them if they wanted advice first before you gave it?”  Oops!

Sometimes as a leader it can be so hard not to offer a solution, give advice, or even sometimes tell someone exactly what they need to do.  This is usually because you so desperately want to help them or to avoid them having to learn the hard way like you may have.

Although I do have work to do to improve in this area, I do practice it and try to catch myself when I’m not doing so well.  So what can you do to listen first:

  • Obviously, the first step is to actually listen.  Stop what you are doing and focus on the person by looking at them and giving your full attention.  After they finish speaking, count to 10 in your head, giving time for them to potentially explain further or to give you some insights as to what they are asking of you, and most importantly for you to hesitate from jumping right in.
  • Ask questions to ensure you understand the situation and what has already been done while demonstrating interest, such as, “What is the impact of this?” or, “What actions have you taken so far?”
  • Ask how you can help or if they want your advice.  Often I find, people don’t want your advice, but rather just want to let you know what’s going on or to vent.
  • Ask them questions that lead them to their own ideas, thoughts, conclusions or decisions.  Use questions such as, “What options have you considered?”, “How are you planning to address this?”, “Are there other ideas or options you have considered?”, “What are the risks of doing this?”.
  • When it’s their call, tell them it’s their call but still ask how you can help them.  Ask them questions to assist them with their decision process, or to point them in the right direction of things they should consider while making the decision.  Use questions such as “Did you consider how this may impact the team member?” rather than “Don’t you think the team member will be negatively impacted by this because of …. “.  When they’ve made their decision, keep your trap shut… it was their call remember.

I recall a situation years ago when I was writing a very important A3 (form of business proposal) and had to review with two different VPs.  The first one told me to change this, change that, add this and delete the next thing.  I walked away completely demotivated, mad, and as though the A3 and contents were no longer reflecting my my work.  When I reviewed with the second VP, he listened to the proposal, asked me some questions to understand and clarify.  On points he didn’t think were articulated well, he would ask, “Is there a different way you can make this point more clear?”.  I’d make a suggestion and he would say, “Yes, that’s much better. I can understand that very clearly”.  I walked away from that leader feeling motivated, inspired and anxious to make the changes and improvements to the A3.

What do you do to listen first, then ask how you can help?