I am on a mission to help leaders and companies foster the skillset of listening and to leverage it as a formal business practice. A practice that drives productivity and profits. And one that makes the entire endeavor of business simply more human, more fun, and more fulfilling.
Brands that listen, people that listen, leaders that listen, win and grow consistently. These people are focused on creating bonafide value, being of service and improving the world of real humans (customers), in an ongoing perpetual and iterative way.
We talk a lot about results and action. Great companies and leaders have a bias toward action!
A bias toward action? I say first, employ a bias to listen. A bias and discipline to listen first, with great intent and focus, and then, and quickly, if needed, act with vigor and gusto! Action without listening, without inquiry, is often dangerous and inefficient, but this is our go-to habit in a world of urgency and short-term perspectives.
LISTENING BROADLY TO CULTURE & THE MARKET FOR OPPORTUNITY
The modern-day leader is one who is disciplined to listen intentionally and consciously. In the grand picture, they are constantly "listening" to the marketplace--our 'culture'--and he or she observes it with a sense of wonder and curiosity. The modern-day leader is continuously listening in order to then pose constant hypotheses, and ask big questions about what the user or customer (our fellow human) needs most. To do this prudently, one must slow down, breathe and look around at how the world is operating. Listen for the cues of what is working in our society, and also what is not. Listen for the cues of what people need more of and less of. Listen for what people want – what drives them. As a leader, you are listening with a sense of empathy for others. And that empathy lets you ask "If I could solve that issue, and do it at scale, and build a repeatable system/service or a product that truly adds value for those people (could be businesses or individuals - it's all people!), there may be an opportunity here..."
LISTENING IN ORDER TO STAY AGILE AMIDST UNCERTAINTIES
Listening intentionally and consciously is a competitive advantage for the modern organization. No successful brand forces a product or service on the market. You don't just talk your way into good business. The most competitive and successful modern brands are listening constantly and intentionally to their prospects, users, and customers - they listen as a practice, in order to consistently launch and relaunch a worthy offering at an MVP level, and to evolve, iterate and innovate as the market changes.
Listening allows organizations to foster agility, and among the uncertainty and chaos of life, a sustainable business must become agile, durable, and nimble as it grows.
LISTENING TO SERVE FIRST, IN ORDER TO TRULY SOLVE
Business is ultimately about helping our clients solve problems, or address challenges and/or needs. The modern-day leader listens to serve first, then to solve. This yields long-term partnerships and bigger win-win situations.
In Daniel Pink's book, To Sell Is Human, he notes that we should not think of ourselves as "problem solvers" for our clients, but first "problem identifiers." Your job isn't necessarily to solve the problem they have. The immediate challenge is not always the ultimate challenge they seek an answer to. Your role is to understand the perceived problem in the context of their business, put yourself in their shoes and consider how that is impacting their immediate and ultimate purpose. Asking thoughtful questions and listening deeply to what they seem to care most about reveals what's most essential. There's no doubt you can serve them, but strive to discover how you can best serve them. Help your clients see the landscape of business in new ways, in proactive ways, in heightened ways, in profitable ways, and be a true partner that they can't live without. And certainly, solve their perceived problems along the way.
LISTENING INTENTIONALLY TO FUEL THE BUSINESS SYSTEM
The modern-day leader is also listening across the organization, powered by a sense of curiosity, seeking to understand the ways in which the business is "working" or to assess how well the system is working. The system of business has inputs and outputs. Inputs are mostly human resources, raw goods and any machinery or technology involved. Money allows the system to come together. Money is the grease--without it, the exchange of value has friction and tension (in a civilized society, money lubricates our society; in other environments, people steal, extort, manipulate, or force the exchange of value). The system also has outputs--the end product or service that is offered to the user or customer. The desired result of any output is that value is created for the user or customer. The system itself is a machine in a sense. Inputs, outputs, money to keep all the parts working together "smoothly". Then, we add in the fuel.
Communication is the fuel to the system of business. Our communication literally FUELS this system - we convey needs, expectations, commitments, plans. And we communicate past and future factors. The quality of our communication, or the quality of our fuel, impacts how well the system runs--how fast it runs, how long it runs (along with that grease-money!), how efficiently it runs, and the quality of the output. Like a real engine or machine, if the fuel is tainted or contaminated, efficiency and productivity are compromised. The modern-day leader is constantly observing, asking questions and listening as the system operates as he or she strives to keep the system running well at all times.
LISTENING TO BE STRONGER & SMARTER TOGETHER
The modern-day leader is listening deeply to those people he or she depends on, mentors and manages, works hand-in-hand with. The modern-day leader listens with a purpose in mind, and seeks to gain knowledge and insight, rather than to know everything or to have the immediate answer. We are told to surround ourselves with people smarter than us. The next step is to truly shut up and listen to their expertise, advice, insights, and knowledge. As a leader, you may own the decision. That's often a duty of the role--to make a prudent, critical decision. In that case, if you think you have the answer, well, you might win that bet occasionally. The more consistent bet though, the bet that fuels the system, is to extract the brilliance of those around you. To work together to become stronger and smarter than we ever could be alone as individuals. And that demands us to listen deeply. Ask brilliant questions. Then, let others share. This discipline is the modern leader's secret weapon.
LISTENING TO UNLOCK THE POWER OF OUR DIFFERENCES
Our differences often cause conflict and tension because those differences are misunderstood and underappreciated. People's differences may even intimidate or threaten us at times. But, when we become aware of our differences, especially the different ways we listen to and for information, we can begin to synthesize them and harness our cognitive diversity, leading to more prudent, creative and productive decision making. And action.
Intentionally and consciously listening to others is what you do when you have each other's back, seeking to count on one another. Listening deeply to others is how you unlock their greatest contribution to the system. People are moved, motivated, engaged, committed, and confident when they feel heard, understood, valued, and respected. And that's what happens when leaders truly listen to their people--when teams listen intentionally with each other, and when brands listen to the customer. The result is trust.
Perhaps that is the ultimate fuel our business systems thrive on ... TRUST. Nothing fosters trust better and faster than actually listening to each other. Listening to each other with purpose, on purpose.