Listening – a team leaders most beneficial action

“Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.” ~ Epictetus

Terrific story by Kent Blumberg about how one manager’s patient listening changed the culture of a whole organization. The story is applicable to many business situations.

Scenario: A new manager is assigned to an under-performing work unit that has recently experienced internal strife. Although individuals perform their tasks, there is no sense of common purpose.

To address the situation, Kent explains that the new manager (Dave) began holding regular meetings with the entire team. The manager did not have an agenda for the meetings, nor did he dominate the discussion. Rather…

Dave simply asked, “What do you want to talk about?” and then waited. For the first few months, no one said anything in these meetings. Dave thanked each crew at the end of the meeting and they went on to work. Eventually, folks started speaking up. They would talk about issues on the crew, issues with their supervisor, questions about the mill, questions about the company, and many other things. Dave would ask questions to clarify the issues and the HR manager wrote it all down.

Dave listened and asked questions, but was careful never to make a decision or take action based on what he heard in these meetings. That was the supervisor’s job.

[Snipped paragraphs about how supervisors and crew chiefs resolved issues raised during meetings.]

By the time I arrived, as one of Dave’s direct reports, the listening meetings rarely turned up any negative surprises. Instead, the crews mostly wanted to make suggestions about the larger business.

Listening is possibly the most beneficial action a leader can take when trust within a team or organization has been strained or shattered. By providing a forum for team members to give their input, the leader sends a signal that their input matters.

Real listening requires acknowledging what was heard. It is not necessary to adopt each action suggested by a team member, but it is important to demonstrate that each suggestion or complaint is heard and fully considered.

Read the entire story on Kent’s blog.

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3 Responses to Listening – a team leaders most beneficial action

  1. Thanks for the compliment and the link. You’re spot on about the importance of acknowledgement. I teach my team that it’s okay to say “no” to a suggestion, but you must also explain how and why you arrived at that “no.”


  2. You’re welcome, Kent. Learning to say “No” is hard, but better than using strategies that you feel are are the wrong.

  3. I really like the conclusion in here.

    True listening is about acknowledging what the team says. However, I wonder if listening happens because we accepted the team already. What do you say?

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