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Listening is the leadership gift that keeps on giving

Season 1: Finding and keeping great people

Bobette Buster Author, Film Producer, and Professor of Storytelling

Listening is the leadership gift that keeps on giving

Once you’ve honed your listening skills, you’ll discover that it really is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only do you become more aware of and attuned to others, you also hear in a way that’s more alive, more sophisticated.

It could be the way you conduct an interview, the tone and tempo of a group meeting, or a discussion in the corridor. Take the time to tune in to your colleagues and see what happens.

Listening to ourselves

How often do we listen to ourselves? The small voice inside us that, maybe, speaks the truth? And if we did, what might we learn, where might it lead us? It’s important to listen to and be guided by your inner voice. In doing so, you’ll be true to yourself and, maybe, discover what makes you come alive.

Why not have a go? Simply set aside five minutes and sit quietly on your own. Turn off phone notifications, the computer, and so on. If you’re too busy, try and incorporate this exercise into something you’re already doing. For example, sit in the car before you head to work or pick up your children. Then look up and around. Find something to focus on, a cloud or a tree, then pause and just . . . listen. Allow the thoughts in your head to pass through—all the chores and worries. Let that happen for a minute or so. Then breathe in for the count of seven. Breathe out for the count of 11. Repeat for one minute. Focus on your breath. Listen. Try and make this a new daily habit.

Listening to others

I’d like to share this story of Maureen Chiquet, the former CEO of Chanel, who writes about her rise in retail from Gap to their Old Navy brand to Chanel in her book, Beyond the Label: Women, Leadership and Success on Our Own Terms. The thread that runs through her trajectory is how, over time, she developed and honed her listening skills.

When she was offered the opportunity at Chanel, the transition came with a caveat: she had to spend three years in training before taking on full responsibility. In particular, she was asked to listen and observe. In doing so, she developed a deep respect for the experience and expertise of their many long-standing employees. She learned that as a leader, it was important to ask the right questions, and listen to the answers.

Over time, the company as a whole began to listen much more to their customers, employees, and the world around them. As well as staying true to the brand’s purpose and core values, it helped carry them through major market disruptions, upheavals and creative innovations.

Take time to listen

Listening takes time. You must pause, take a moment, and offer yourself to another person with your full attention. Honestly, this can sometimes feel like a drag. Maybe their issue will inconvenience you. But there will be times when listening will be the most important thing you’ll ever do.

In conclusion . . .

Listening is an everyday act, both ordinary and majestic. It’s also an act of great generosity.

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