A Leader’s Guide To Better Listening
March 18, 2012
I saw the movie “The Lorax” with two of my kids last week-end. It was amazing. I highly recommend you take the youngsters in your life to see it. It’s a blast and an important movie for every child to see.
I love that the prescient Dr. Seuss, in 1971, created a simple cartoon metaphor for how unconscious greed in business is both unfulfilling, and destroys nature in it’s wake.
Caught up in the conditioning of society – the protagonist was unilaterally driven to earn his fortune in the world. And after making a fortune, destroying his community and feeling empty, he woke up and realized he’d chased the wrong dream. He’d made a huge life mistake that had devastating consequences. He didn’t listen.
In my experience, heightening our level of awareness when we listen, is a ground zero leadership skill that often gets overlooked. The ability to simultaneously listen to others, and our own inner wisdom from a clear place is a precursor to taking decisive, high impact action. A skill well worth some attention.
A Leader’s Guide to Better Listening
I’ve been studying a revolutionary system for leading, innovating, problem solving, and developing strategy. It was developed by MIT lecturer Otto Scharmer, in conjunction with seminal thought leader Peter Senge. It’s described simply in a business book they co-authored called “Presence”. The entire process begins with listening.
The simple premise is that while we know quite a bit about what great leaders do, we know very little about the inner place, the Source from which they operate. Scharmer asserts that learning to recognize the habits of attention in any particular business culture, requires among other things, a particular kind of listening. He then outlines four stages of listening, with each progressive stage inhabiting greater levels of depth and skillfulness.
4 Stages of Listening
1. “I already know what you’re telling me” (Downloading)
In this type of listening, your inner voice of judgement is in the driver seat. You believe that what you hear confirms what you already know. You’ve decided there is no new information or insight, and slot everything into your existing paradigm of mental knowledge.
2. “Just give me the facts” (Factual)
In this next level of listening, you switch off your inner voice of judgement, and listen to the voices right in front of you. You adopt a scientific perspective, ask smart questions, let the data talk to you, and pay attention to the responses you get – whether confirming or disconfirming your existing paradigm of understanding.
3. “I know how you feel” (Emapthetic)
This is a deeper level of listening. When you engage in a mindful connected dialogue, you become aware of a profound shift from your habitual listening – of things, figures and facts to the “beingness” of the other. This requires an open heart – to really connect with others from within. In this moment, you forget about your own agenda, and see the world from the place of another. Greater future possibilities open up from this level of listening.
4. “I’m deeply connected and in the ‘Zone’ listening” (Generative)
This is the deepest state of attention and awareness typically only known by top athletes as “peak performance”. You feel higher powered, interconnected and fearless, listening and operating in a state of grace and ease with total knowledge of your best future possibility and self.
For an executive summary on the Theory U leadership technology click here
Generative listening is where all possibility exists – “being in the listening”, as another one of my teachers, Debbie Ford, taught me. We recognize that our barriers to listening – the voice of fear, the voice of judgement, the voice of cynicism – manifest as filters of arrogance, impatience, and distraction, and then we let go of those voices, and with an open will, re-focus awareness on what wants to emerge from the interaction.
This can be applied to your one-on-one interactions, your one-to-many interactions, and used as a powerful social technology in teams to create innovation, plan your strategy, and problem solve.
Increase Your Leadership Power Today
I invite you to become aware of how you’re listening. How you attend to, or listen to others, determines your emotional reaction, which in turn determines the action you take. Begin to notice when you react from your small place, strife with agenda and shadow, and try acting from a more self aware, interconnected place. This alone has the power to shift your entire company. Also remember, when you want to make shifts in an effort to rise into your greatest potential – “doing” is only part of the equation, the bigger more important part is “being”.
“We see the world not at it is, but as we are” says ancient wisdom from the Talmud. So the key to transforming into your greatness is to witness how you hear, see and feel your world, with clarity. Right action then becomes clear, skillful and powerful. And from there you can shift into the discipline of execution.