Last week I had the opportunity to speak in Shanghai and Singapore. I love traveling to these amazing locations and enjoy taking advantage of the long flights to catch up on my reading.
One article that caught my attention was in the Harvard Business Review regarding the biggest mistakes made by executives.
Besides being an interesting read on its own, it reminded me of a story from my book The Future Of You.
Randy was a rising executive with a promising future at a utility company and was on schedule to receive a big promotion. As a precursor to the promotion, he was asked to launch a new division.
A big part of his responsibility with the launch was to oversee a large number of direct reports. Coordinating and working with so many people gave him the opportunity to showcase his leadership style, as well as build credibility and goodwill with those who would also be reporting to him in his new position.
Unfortunately, before he could realize his bigger future, Randy made one of the greatest mistakes that leaders make. Despite a very successful launch, it cost him his promotion.
Charging Up The Hill Alone
What was Randy’s big mistake?
He forgot that a leader needs to be inclusive and recognize the contributions of others as “must haves” to establish his capability as a leader. In other words, he lost sight of his biggest asset – his people. He didn’t invest the time to involve, develop and actively LISTEN to his direct reports.
Miraculously, he was able to set-up the new division in eight months instead of twelve, at a cost-savings to the company of $350,000. However, Randy alienated his employees to the point that they told upper management that they refused to work with him again. He was described as a “bull in a china shop,” ignoring how others felt under his leadership.
By promoting Randy, the CEO would face an outright rebellion. He had no choice but to tell him that he was being passed over.
Why it Is Important To Listen NOW!
What is the takeaway or lesson you can learn from Randy’s experience?
I will sum it up with three simple words: ask, listen and know.
The Good Book says to “ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
Far too often, when I have talked with all levels, from executives to mid-level managers to employees who feel lost or stuck in their career, I have found that they have miscalculated the impact of their actions on others. Creating results is essential, but pushing others towards your agenda without soliciting feedback can have a backlash effect. Understanding your environment and knowing how to engage your stakeholders are critical to a successful career and capitalizing on your opportunities.
Are you in a similar situation? Do you feel that you are giving it your all with little or no reward and recognition? If you can relate to this, here are some easy tips:
- Stop and ask what value you are delivering to those with whom you work and to whom you report.
- Talk with your boss and confirm both their and the organization’s goals and realistic timeframes for achieving them.
- Seek concrete advice from your stakeholders on how you can play a significant part in helping them to be successful.
- Seek feedback from your colleagues to find ways to work together better to everyone’s mutual or shared benefit.
- Speak with each direct report to determine if your coaching style aligns with his/her personality.
Of course, only asking the right questions is not enough. You also have to hear the answers you receive.
I have found that in the majority of instances when you ask the right questions, you will receive answers that you may not have expected. This disconnect means that you are likely operating in the shadows of misperception or misunderstanding.
When you gain insight into how others think and feel, you will avoid the common traps associated with working in isolation. For example, you may be unintentionally alienating others or proposing what you see as being the right strategy at the wrong time.
It should also come as no surprise to you that most conflicts can be avoided just by engaging others and hearing their thoughts on a regular basis. In fact, we’re more likely to accept suggestions from those people who are great listeners. Here are some easy listening tips:
- Use body language to demonstrate that you are interested, through engaging facial expressions and nodding.
- Ask a question that tells the listener that you not only heard what was said but that you understood the importance, paving the way to new insights.
- Make appropriate eye contact with the person.
- Turn off digital communication devices during your meeting.
- Resist the temptation to interrupt or highjack the conversation to your agenda.
- Before talking, ask if the person has finished their dialogue.
Asking + Listening = Knowing
Have you ever found yourself saying to someone; “I am sorry, I didn’t know you felt so strongly about …”?
There will be times where you need to forge ahead even if you do not have explicit “permission” or buy-in to do so. However, you may be paying a high price when you do not take the time to build sponsorship.
Revisiting Randy’s story, he was “certain” that he was doing everything right, especially given the positive result. However, Randy lacked self-awareness of the impact he was having on his people. He did not see the entire picture and how his working in isolation without understanding others derailed what would have been a promising career at his company.
After all, it’s difficult to be seen as a leader when you don’t attract followers.
Lend Me Your Ear!
My mother once told me that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
The bridge between asking and knowing is listening. By taking the time to “listen,” a whole new world of insight and understanding will open to you, and with it the opportunities you desire to achieve your personal goals.