When Leaders Don’t Listen

It’s great to work with a leader who knows a lot. It’s absolutely terrible to work for a leader who knows it all. 

I want you to pay particular to the wording of those two sentences. When a leader knows a lot they work WITH their people to create an environment of growth and success. When a leader knows it all they tend to be far more “boss” like than leader like. They don’t work with their people, they expect their people to work FOR them. 

Leaders who believe they already know it all don’t listen to their people. They don’t need to because the only reason anyone actually listens is to learn something. When you have nothing to learn you have no need to listen. 

It’s bad for anyone not to listen. The most successful people learn something new almost every single day. Much of what they learn they learn by listening. When people in leadership positions don’t listen the results can be disastrous. 

Leaders who don’t listen demoralize their people. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of knowing how to help their people stay motivated. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of showing their people that they care. Leaders who don’t listen will never earn the commitment of their people. 

Leaders who don’t listen have to rely on compliance instead of commitment. They will need to try and force productivity out of their people. They may eventually get some work out of them but the quality and quantity of that work will be less than idea.

Compliance will never take an organization and it’s people to the places where commitment can go. 

It is nearly impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. But leaders who don’t listen think communication is only about talking. So they talk and talk and talk. They tell people what to think, they tell them how to think it, and they tell them when to think it. 

Communication is also about listening. In fact, communication is mostly about listening. 

Leaders who do listen give themselves a chance to learn. They give themselves the opportunity to receive information from multiple sources and break it down into actionable tasks. 

Leaders who practice the art of listening receive feedback on their own performance as well as unbiased input about the performance of all members of their team. It allows them to create a truly inclusive organization based on performance not favoritism. 

Leaders who are willing to listen learn exactly how to show their people that they care about them. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their people and they find positions for them where they can succeed. 

Hearing is a gift from God but listening is a choice. Authentic Leaders make the choice to listen to their people, to their customers, to anyone who might help them lead even a little better. 

Have you made the choice to listen? If not it’s a simple choice, just look in the mirror and tell the person looking back that they have a lot to learn. Then start talking less and listening more because when it comes to listening one thing is certain…. if you’re talking then you’re most certainly NOT listening. 

The Enemy Within a Me

People get frustrated with me when I tell them that it’s very likely the greatest obstacle to success they face is themselves. 

They tell me I don’t understand, but I do. They tell me I don’t know, but I do. They tell me I don’t know how tough it can be “out there,” but I do. 

I also know that in any situation where I’ve struggled to advance or accomplish a goal my greatest enemy was within me. That enemy slowed down my progress. My doubts about my own abilities prevented me from moving forward. Those doubts opened the door to my true enemy which was fear of failure. 

Despite the compliments I get about my speaking ability, the things I write and other stuff I do, I know this undeniable truth about myself…overall I’m a pretty average person. I don’t say that about myself in a bad way, in fact my “averageness” is one of my greatest strengths. It helps me relate to the people I’m trying to help. 

That’s why I can say with a high degree of confidence, I do understand, I do know. 

I also know my main enemy is within a me! 

I know the best way for me to block that enemy is to believe in myself. People who believe in themselves are pretty darn near impossible to stop. When YOU believe in yourself you are pretty much unstoppable.

Believing in yourself leaves no room for doubt. Without doubt to open the door fear has no way into your head. 

Any battle is halfway won when when your enemy within is kept away. Obstacles become opportunities when the enemy within you can’t mess with your head. 

So the next time doubt starts to creep into your thoughts you need to immediately ask yourself,  “is this an actual problem, or is this the enemy within a me just tearing down my confidence?”

If you’re average like me, and most of you are, (see, that’s how “average” works) you’ll know it’s the enemy within. You should also know you can defeat it by ignoring it. I know that if you believe in yourself you will be unstoppable. 

I know that about you cause I know that about me. I’ll never let the enemy within a me make me doubt my ability and neither you should you.

Frustrated Followers

I’ve been fortunate for the vast majority of my career to work for and with leaders who were Authentic Leaders. They cared for their people, they were smart and they knew what they were doing. 

Except maybe for one guy. He was my first boss out of college. He didn’t seem to have a very high EQ and his IQ was virtually nonexistent. (Or so it appeared to me) He was functionally illiterate, his communication skills were subpar to say the least. 

But he was my boss. My boss! I had a brand new Engineering Degree and had been anointed by non other than myself as one of the smartest people on the planet. It was an impossible situation…I was a genius and my boss was not. So I set about fixing that injustice.

I decided, at least subconsciously, to be a “difficult” employee. Difficult might be a bit of an understatement…I was determined to make his life a living hell. I mean how hard could it be for a genius such as myself to chase this knucklehead out of the company. My goal was to do whatever was necessary for this guy to no longer be my boss.

I’ll spare you the ugly details of what I determined “difficult” to be. But he and the company we worked for had incredible staying power. Despite my best efforts they kept trying to find a way for us to work together and it took me two long years to finally reach my goal. 

I quit!

Apparently his 20 plus years at a family run company meant something to the owners. They also valued the skills I bought with me. 

It would be several years after I quit before I’d realize what a terrible employee I was. It was be a few more years before I’d realize what a terrible person I was to that boss. 

I’d made the horrible mistake of not seeing the value in someone different than me. My failure to see the value in another human being caused ME great frustration. I took that out on both my boss and any coworkers who happened to agree with him. 

That the man had certain “gaps” was never in doubt. My mistake was in thinking it was my job to expose those gaps. In reality part of my job was actually to fill those gaps. 

He was not technically proficient, I was. It was my job to help him use his strengths by filling his technical gaps. I failed at that…miserably. 

When your leader isn’t all that you think they should be don’t allow yourself to be frustrated. Don’t focus on their weaknesses, focus on their strengths. I can guarantee you that somebody saw those strengths and that’s why they are in the position that are in. Help them use their strengths by filling whatever gaps you can. 

Whether it’s in your job description or not you should understand that one of your roles is to support the other people in your organization. Especially those above you on the organizational chart. The only exception to that “rule” is if that support would include doing something illegal or unethical.

When you’re feeling frustrated by someone above you in your organization, or even someone at your level, remember this truth: being frustrated prevents you from using YOUR strengths. Being frustrated hurts YOU more than anyone else. 

So don’t focus on the things that frustrate you, focus instead on the things you can control. One of those things is helping the people who frustrate you to not frustrate you. That’s a whole lot more productive than constantly complaining. 

Are You Too Concerned With Your Reputation?

I played hockey from about the time I could walk up until… well I’d play now if I could find the time and a sheet of ice. I played with a friend from Peewees right through high school. He was quite the character, whenever he would score a goal, even at 12 years old, he would yell bingo. So we called him Bingo.

We still call him Bingo today. Being a “character” tends to stay with you. So does actually having character. But only having character truly defines you. 

Lots of people, I’d say most people, are far more concerned with their reputation than they are their character. That’s a mistake. 

Here’s why.

Have you ever heard it said of someone “their reputation precedes them?” That’s often considered a compliment. Then when you meet them you’re surprised that they are not at all what you expected. It turned out their reputation was more mirage than fact. It’s not that their reputation was wrong, it was simply a representation of “what” people think they do, not “who” they are. 

Remember this, your reputation may precede you but your character is always attached to you. 

Your reputation can be more valuable than money, there’s no question about that. I suppose that’s why people focus so much on their reputation. What they don’t realize is that their reputation is built upon the foundation of their character. 

The words they speak and the actions they take come straight out of their character. Reputation is who people think you are, character is who you really are. You may be able to hide behind a good reputation for a while but your true character will eventually show itself.

People of good character have no need to hide any part of their life. They take care of their character and their reputation takes care of itself. Your character is reflective of the core values you hold. 

Character is within you. It is even more important than other factors like race, religion, age, and personality in determining how you react during life’s tougher circumstances. Your experiences in life may influence the character traits you have—but it is your character itself that determines how you act.

People can “know” your reputation without really knowing you. Character traits like integrity, courage, honesty, loyalty, and perseverance can only be seen by those who truly want to know you. 

Even people of good character can have a less than stellar reputation because other people’s opinions of you and their biases for you and against you can shape your reputation. That’s how reputations become a mirage, they are often made of opinions. Character is based upon actions.

So which are you more concerned with…your reputation or your character? Focus on the long term by focusing on your character. Your character will eventually build a solid reputation made from facts, not opinions. 

Look and Listen

One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to coach the people you lead. We coach to reinforce positive behavior, we coach to motivate, and sometimes we must coach for corrective action. 

Most often that coaching is in the form of talking. We advise, we suggest, and hopefully not very often, we tell. 

So here’s two pieces of advice for the next time you find yourself in a coaching situation. 

First listen to what you’re saying. I’m serious about that…really listen. In fact, record the conversation and when you play it back listen to what YOU said. Listen to the tone of your voice. Were you speaking in positives and possibilities or were you speaking in negatives and consequences? 

Were you specific in why you’re coaching or did you leave the person you were coaching wondering what the conversation was really about. If you were coaching for corrective action were you very very specific in what needs to change and when? Were you crystal clear in how that change would be measured? Did you leave doubt about your expectations? Any doubt leaves a gray area. Coaching for corrective action requires that you “paint” your expectations in black and white as much as possible.

It’s important to know that when you allow gray areas while coaching for corrective action you give people a place to hide from responsibility. Shades of gray make for a mighty comfortable place to hide from change as well. 

More important than listening to yourself is looking at yourself. As a leader your people will do what you DO far faster than they will do what you SAY. If you’re coaching them towards a better attitude and your attitude sucks then all the words in the world aren’t going to change their attitude. 

As their leader YOU are their model for successful behavior. Whether you realize it or not, YOU are leading by example. If your words do not match your actions then your people will have to make a choice.

Do they do what you say or do they do what you do? They may not believe what they hear but they almost always will believe what they see. 

They will do what you do!

If you’re going to help your people trust what you say then your actions MUST match your words. If you force them to make a choice between “say” or “do” they will choose do and your chances of truly leading them will go the way of the dodo bird.

In both cases, listening to yourself and looking at yourself, you need to be completely honest. Authentic Leaders do not lie to themselves. Do not cut yourself an ounce of slack, if you think your tone was too negative then fix it. If you find that your actions are not a mirror image of your words then change your actions or change your words. 

They MUST match. 

Remember, you may hold a leadership position but your journey to Authentic Leadership never stops. You can and should continue to learn and grow, exactly like the people you lead.

Facts and Opinions

I should warn you right up front…this post is going to contain some shocking information. I won’t leave you hanging wondering what it is, I’ll get it out of the way right up front so you don’t have to wonder what it is any longer.

Not everything you read on the internet, and particularly in Social Media, is true. There it is! I said it! I mentioned the unmentionable! 

That’s not new information by the way, many of the things we see online and in social media have always been a little sketchy. It’s just that it’s so much more prevalent lately. It also has spilled over into the media. It used to be safe to assume that if it was reported in a newspaper or a network news program that it was an absolute fact. That may or may not be true anymore. 

Some of you may say that “my network is absolutely true, it’s the “other side’s” network that promotes lies.” That only proves my point…the facts reported on any network may or may not be true.

Anything you see or read on the internet or social media, especially social media, may or may not be true. 

So maybe we ALL need to apply a little more common sense to our beliefs and a tad bit less emotion. 

If you’re like me you tend to believe what you want to believe. If you’re like me you tend to believe things that are told to you by the people you hang around with…the ones who think like you. If you’re like me then when someone you don’t particularly like says something or tells you something you’re incredibly skeptical. So much so that you almost instinctively know they are likely wrong. Or lying. 

People like me and my friends never exaggerate or “create” a statistic or “fact” that helps to prove our point. Only “other” people do that. 

A study done by the University of Massachusetts found that most people lie in everyday conversations when they are trying to appear likable and competent. The study found that 60 percent of people lied at least once in a 10 minute conversation. 

I don’t know this for sure but I’m going to guess that many of those “lies” the study found wouldn’t be considered lies by the person who told them. But they weren’t facts either. They were not supported by any kind of evidence. So if they weren’t facts supported by provable evidence then what exactly were they?

I’m kinda working overtime right now to be more skeptical about the information pouring in from every direction. I’ll eventually decide for myself what’s true or not and I’ll decide with the help of actual evidence, the kind you can see and hear for yourself. I’m working really hard to be okay with being unsure about everything for a day or two until that evidence makes an appearance. If, after a while, no evidence appears then I’ll believe what I want to believe…with the clear understanding that I may be wrong.

That clear understanding that I may be wrong will also cause me to realize that a person who believes differently than me may be right. 

That means someone can be wrong without being a liar. Someone can believe something different than me without being my enemy. Someone can believe something that turns out to be untrue without being an idiot. 

Beliefs without evidence used to be called opinion. We were always told that people were entitled to their opinions but today we act as if there are no opinions, there are only truths and lies. But hanging a sign on a cow that says “Horse” doesn’t make that cow a horse. Believing a different opinion is a lie doesn’t make it a lie either. It’s still an opinion and people are still entitled to their opinions.

One of the things I’ve learned over time is that the people who are “different” than me aren’t really that different. We all have far more in common than our differences would indicate. Find that commonality and you’ll likely find a friend as well.

And who couldn’t use a few more friends in these turbulent times.

Privileged Leaders

There are all types of leaders in the world. Cleary, some are better than others. The worst however are what I would call Privileged Leaders. 

Authentic Servant Leaders see leading others to success as a privilege. Privileged Leaders believe holding a leadership position entitles them to “special” rules not available to those they think they’re leading. They live by the old saying “Rank has it’s privileges.” They make that old saying come to life by providing themselves with many privileges not available to the people they claim to be leading. 

Privileged Leaders will never have the commitment of the people they supposedly lead because they don’t think they need it. Without that commitment they simply cannot lead. 

Privileged Leaders are poor communicators because their different set of rules act as a wall between them and their people. They don’t understand the people they try to lead because they don’t care to understand the people they try to lead. 

They don’t value the people they are supposed to be leading because they see value only in themselves. They don’t listen to the people they hope are following them because…well because they don’t listen to anyone. 

Privileged Leaders believe that their title or position is what makes them special. They believe their income level makes them better human beings. 

Authentic Servant Leaders believe they aren’t special at all. They believe it’s the people they lead who are truly special. They value those people and seek out their advice. They listen, intently, to what they have to say. No amount of money, no title or position will ever make them think they are better than another human being. 

You’ll recognize a Privileged Leader the moment you see them. They will have placed themselves on a pedestal so high above the people they think they are leading that those people couldn’t follow if they wanted to. 

Authentic Servant Leaders make certain they stay close to their people. They lead from the front, they lead from the middle and sometimes they even lead from the rear. Whatever the case may be they lead from along side their people and never put themselves above them. 

Privileged Leaders have no way of learning how mistaken they are because they also believe they have nothing left to learn. They “know” every decision they make is the right decision simply because they made it. They don’t question themselves and woe to any person who dares to question their thinking. 

Authentic Servant Leaders know they will never know it all. They also know they don’t need to. They have a wealth of knowledge in the people who are committed to following them. They “tap into” that knowledge bank with great regularity for the benefit of their entire organization. They know that they could be wrong about virtually anything so they value having their decisions challenged. That challenge either confirms their thinking or causes them to change it, again to the benefit of the entire organization. 

If you’re working for a Privileged Leader then fasten your seat belt. It’s gonna be a rough ride. They won’t learn from their mistakes because they will never admit to them. They must either be forced out by an Authentic Servant Leader or the organization they are supposed to be leading will simply go the way of many failed organizations.

If you’re working with an Authentic Servant Leader then count your blessings, which will be many. Working for an Authentic Servant Leader gives you and your organization ample opportunities to grow. Make sure that you make the most of those opportunities.