That ‘light bulb’ moment for me, happened quite early on in my career as a Business Management Officer at Salford City Council. I was tasked with getting senior managers to simply sign a form. All the forms needed signing by a specific date and returned to an external address, if not there could be financial implications. So off I set on my (simple) mission, all was running smoothly until I was left with one unsigned form. I’d verbally asked this person to sign the form, left it with him, followed it up, emailed and asked his team to remind him. I tried every method I could think wondering ‘maybe I haven’t explained properly’ ‘maybe I need to be clearer’ but all my attempts were to no avail. On my final chase, stood by his desk asking him politely to sign a form, without looking up from his screen he said “what’s important to you Lauren, is not important to me”.
That was the lightbulb moment when I realised not everyone listens, not everyone cares what you have to say, nor will everyone understand what you say! I didn’t bother asking him again, when his senior manager chased the form he promptly signed there and then. This has stuck with me throughout my career and it’s rare now that I waste my breath on people that don’t appear to be listening and I try not to be that type of leader. I always take the time to listen to what people have to say and I always take time to be present.
I’ve been to many an event where the topic of effective leadership is high priority; listen, hear what your colleagues have to say we’re told…but I’m sat in a room being talked at not to. Actually, hearing is two-way, the art of really hearing what people are telling you is also listening and being visible.
I recently read a statistic that 50% of employees don’t trust those in leadership roles. That’s a worrying statistic but unsurprising. Why? Because these people will have also had experiences just like the above, they’ve sat in a meeting where the leader in the room was clearly not hearing them, they’ve experienced ‘tokenistic’ listening efforts. Like a TripAdvisor review, the bad sticks with you, not the good!
— Helen Bevan (@helenbevan) November 1, 2017
Allowing a culture of ‘us and them’ to grow only leads to a larger issue of fear, making yourself accessible and approachable is key. Showing your colleagues you really listen and really hear is infectious and it’s these kinds of skills I want my own team to go on and replicate.
As leaders, we should continually work to develop these qualities and create a culture of equal balance to really be great leaders.