Category Archives: Thoughts
Let’s face it: strong leaders tend to be characterized by their strong opinions, decisive action, and take-no-prisoners attitude. These are important traits, but it’s equally important for managers to stand down and listen up. Yet many leaders struggle to do this, in part because they’ve become more accustomed to speaking than listening. So, how can you develop this muscle? What are the barriers to good listening and how do you overcome them?
What the Experts Say
“As a leader, you need to have a strong voice and you need to know when it’s time to listen,” says Amy Jen Su, co-owner of Paravis Partners, an executive training and coaching firm. “A real conversation is a two-way dialogue; it requires both parts.” Christine Riordan, a leadership coach and president-elect of Adelphi University, agrees: “To be able to motivate and inspire others, you need to learn how to listen in both individual meetings and at the group level.” Fortunately, there are concrete ways to improve this important skill. Both Su and Riordan agree that the key is to start with the right mindset.
Make it a priority
First, you need the will. “You have to put it at the top of your list and acknowledge it’s a skill that’s important in your role as a leader. It has to be an active decision,” says Riordan. And to get over a need to talk or interject, adapt a mindset that will allow you to hear what’s being shared. If you believe you have all the answers, you simply have no reason to listen to others. Some of Su’s strongest clients build their listening skills by focusing on co-creation. “They recognize their own intellect, but they also recognize that their colleagues are equally smart and have something of value to say.”
The industrialist and the one in power would like you to choose from a list, multiple choice. To interview with the companies that come to the placement office, to select from what’s on offer, to ask, ‘what do you have?’
This is the world of “If we don’t sell it, you don’t want it.”
But in revolutionary times, when the number of options is exploding, the opportunities go to someone who can describe something that’s not in stock, that perhaps has never even been described before.
Humans have a well-defined internal clock that shapes our energy levels throughout the day: our circadian process, which is often referred to as a circadian rhythm because it tends to be very regular. If you’ve ever had jetlag, then you know how persistent circadian rhythms can be. This natural — and hardwired — ebb and flow in our ability to feel alert or sleepy has important implications for you and your employees.
Although managers expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation. Employees may want to be their best at all hours, but their natural circadian rhythms will not always align with this desire. On average, after the workday begins, employees take a few hours to reach their peak levels of alertness and energy — and that peak does not last long. Not long after lunch, those levels begin to decline, hitting a low at around 3pm. We often blame this on lunch, but in reality this is just a natural part of the circadian process. After the 3pm dip, alertness tends to increase again until hitting a second peak at approximately 6pm. Following this, alertness tends to then decline for the rest of the evening and throughout the early morning hours until hitting the very lowest point at approximately 3:30am. After hitting that all-time low, alertness tends to increase for the rest of the morning until hitting the first peak shortly after noon the next day. A very large body of research highlights this pattern, although of course there is individual variability around that pattern, which I’ll discuss shortly.
Managers who want to maximize their employees’ performance should consider this circadian rhythm when setting assignments, deadlines, and expectations. This requires taking a realistic view of human energy regulation, and appreciating the fact that the same employee will be more effective at some times of the day than others. Similarly, employees should take their own circadian rhythms into account when planning their own day. The most important tasks should be conducted when people are at or near their peaks in alertness (within an hour or so of noon and 6pm). The least important tasks should be scheduled for times in which alertness is lower (very early in the morning, around 3pm, and late at night).
Very few people are afraid of speaking.
It’s the public part that’s the problem.
What makes it public? After all, speaking to a waiter or someone you bump into on the street is hardly private.
I think we define public speaking as any group large enough or important enough or fraught enough that we’re afraid of it.
And that makes the solution straightforward (but not easy). Instead of plunging into these situations under duress, once a year or once a decade, gently stretch your way there.