Lead by listening

We’re taught to listen from a very early age so why, sometimes, does it feel that c-suite executives have unlearnt this? Executives in an organisation need to be seen to be leaders, to be the people that drive forward initiatives to achieve an organisation’s desired outcomes. Traditional board structures produce a hierarchical delineation of responsibility and with that often a culture of

This is what we’re doing. I’m in control. Do it.’

With every market being disrupted in some way by technical or customer culture evolution then a c-suite leader who simply dictates runs the risk of becoming detached from those they are there to ultimately serve – their customers. Yes, we could say ‘shareholders’, but happy customers usually result in better profits – which keeps the shareholders happy.

They say knowledge is power, so if we gain knowledge from listening is it such a leap to suggest that we gain power from listening?

Knowledge = Power, Listening = Knowledge, ergo Listening = Power

Accepting my transitive relation argument as correct, then if you’re a c-suite executive who should you listen to?

Fellow board members

By understanding the needs and opinions of your peers you can better understand how your decisions affect other parts of the business. This is crucial to ensuring cross-organisational alignment and reducing the risk of introducing counter-productive initiatives; tightening one guy rope on a tent can often loosen another. It’s also important not to be too protective of your domain. If a decision elsewhere could greatly affect your area of the business, but is better for the positive growth of the organisation, then perhaps embracing the change is the better option?

Direct reports

Gaining a clear understanding of the pressures that your direct reports are under (especially where those pressures have been introduced by you) will help you understand the impact of your decisions. Better still, collaborate on decisions before setting out changes – ask your reports, ‘If we do this, what’s the direct impact?’ Greater involvement in the decision will lead to increased support in implementation.

Those at the coal face

Multi-tiered management structures often hide the main causes of business inefficiency through messages of discontent or frustration, with business processes or systems never reaching those who make the investment decisions. By getting out there and talking directly to those that deliver your day-to-day business functions you’ll quickly get to the root cause of business ‘churn’ and with open encouragement be told of the little things that could make a big difference. A simple way of doing this is asking the question ‘What’s getting in your way of delivering value here?’ Do the staff need more time with customers? More training? Less policies?

Jeanne Bliss, in her book “Chief Customer Officer”, suggests introducing a “Kill a stupid rule movement” which encourages staff to identify rules or processes that used to make sense but now, as the business has moved forward, are just getting in the way. There may not be a simple fix but this type of open communication channel can highlight issues early, leading to more cost-effective solutions.

Customers

In most businesses, this is the most important set of people to listen to as to continue to be a successful organisation you need happy customers. Some organisations fail badly here by focussing on the good interactions when there is much greater value in following up with customers who’ve had a bad experience. Acknowledgement and empathy when something has gone wrong is important to get the customer to share crucial feedback – the goal is not to win them back but to listen and adapt accordingly.

Leadership today is not just about dictating from on high. It’s about creating a culture where everyone in the organisation feels that they contribute and have a voice. Time is up for the autocrat, we’re now in the time of the listening leader.

Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below, or contact me by email.

Published by

Mark Macrae

Mark is an enthusiastic senior consultant who is passionate about understanding the business needs to deliver the right solution while ensuring technology is the enabler, not the dictator, of digital transformation.

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