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The Truth About Leadership - It's Good to Talk

Jul 12, 2008
Business leaders generally don't 'do' anything. It's true.

They don't work on the factory conveyor belt, they don't write the sales copy, they don't service the computers.

What leaders do do is talk for a living.

If you're a senior executive, reflect for a moment on your typical day at work. The chances are that you spend most of your time in conversation with others. The people you talk with varies from day to day. Even from moment to moment.

You talk with your peers, your suppliers, your subordinates and even with your customers. (Though possibly not as much as you should.)

And the style of your conversation varies: it might be an apparently casual chat, or a formal meeting or a conference.

And yet many business leaders get very touchy if you suggest they spend their days talking. They retort: "Are you accusing me of being all talk and no action?"

Some leaders seem to see this as an insult. But it's not an insult - it's simply a way of describing what business leaders do.

When we call someone 'all talk and no action' we seem to be accusing them of wasting their time chatting and not getting anything done. However, if you're a successful leader, your conversations won't be unstructured and pointless. As a result of your conversations, things will happen. After all, 100 per cent of your 'action' should be to get other people to do things.

And if you get five or 20 people doing the right things, then you've achieved far more than if you tried to do the work of 20 people yourself.

Lead through others. And let your talk drive the actions of your people.

For every talker, there must be a listener.

But leaders don't listen. They just don't listen. It's true.

The 360 degree surveys that we do suggest that leaders are usually too full of themselves and their own ideas to listen to anyone else. They don't seem to value anyone else's ideas or opinions.

And yet, it's important to remember that a key part of good conversation is to be a good listener. This is a lesson that senior leaders need to learn today more than ever.

Why? Well suppose you want to introduce a change into a fast moving business. It's all very well deciding to take your organization in a particular direction, and it's all very well telling your staff what you want them to do. But how do you know they will do what you tell them? Unless you listen, you don't.

Secondly, how do you know that they've understood what you want them to do? Unless you listen, you don't. (You can hope.)

Thirdly, how do you know that your vision can be implemented as you saw it? Might someone lower in the organization have ideas that could make your vision better? Unless you listen, you have no way of knowing if there's a better way.

So stop right here.

Please listen: the only way to get the answers to any of these questions is to listen, systematically and deeply, to your people.

OK, if you lead a large department or organization, you won't be able to listen to everyone. But identify the key players and make sure you listen to them. Ask them how THEY see things working. That way THEY can get to grips with the details of the vision or strategy. And you can help them discover its strengths and weaknesses.

And, hey, you might even learn a thing or two yourself.

Conversation is a valuable tool, because it's not just a way of exchanging information. By listening to someone, really listening, you boost their self-respect and confidence.

And you can also motivate them to get it right. Sometimes senior executives forget how powerful this can be.

Benefits of listening:

If you learn how to listen effectively, you can gain information at three levels:
1. You can learn what's happening at the surface level to the people you're talking with - but, importantly, from their perspective, not our own.
2. You can learn how people feel about what's happening to them.
3. And you can learn how people feel about themselves.

Each of these levels can provide valuable information. Combined, they are a powerful leadership tool. They help you:
- Assess what the most important things going on in your organization right now are.
- Work out the implications for your business - what options they leave you with, or what options they create.
- And decide what to do now, if anything, as a result.
About the Author
If you want the leadership success you deserve, get the leadership training you deserve. Download more free articles and leadership training videos from Steven Sonsino, an international business school professor and author of the Amazon bestseller "The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders"
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