Leadership Skill: The Power of Listening – Part 4

In this series of posts, I’ve been stressing the importance for leaders to keep their ears open and proactively seek feedback from the multiple sources that affect their ability to lead effectively.

In particular, leaders should maintain open lines of communication with their direct reports and “extended” team. Leaders invite trouble when they shut themselves off and isolate themselves from the people they lead. They self-handicap when they fail to create a culture where people can tell them the truth.

In such a “closed” culture, everyone watches the ship sink, but no one dares say anything to the captain for fear of suffering severe repercussions. They put their life jackets and prepare the lifeboats in secret, getting ready to abandon ship, while the captain labors to reach his or her destination, unaware that there’s a big hole in the back of the ship and that in the next few years, the ship will lie at the bottom of the sea of failure.

As part of their feedback systems, leaders must have a way to get pertinent information from the most qualified people. In the organization, there are experts who are smarter than leaders in a specific area, and leaders must leverage that expertise. Leaders who pay attention to expert advice gain insights that can help them make better decisions.

For example, if a leader must decide on a real estate purchase, he would be wise to gather experts in that field around the decision table.

It’s important to mention that, when leaders are seeking feedback on a specific topic, they often must gather experts that don’t necessarily fall within the frame of the organizational chart. It’s more important to have the right people at the table than to have the people represented on an organizational chart.

Of course, leaders must keep the relevant leaders and team members from the organizational structure in the loop. For instance, if they need to pull someone from another team into a meeting, they should make sure that the leader of that person is aware; otherwise, it’ll create unnecessary friction in the organization.

Those on the organizational chart must realize that their position in the organization doesn’t mean that they are “the be all end all”; they must trust the expertise of others and allow leaders to get the information they need to make the best decisions possible.

As a general principle, the closer to the source, the better the information you’ll get. If you want the feedback from people on the ground, you should be talking to them directly; talking to their leader’s leader will provide you with secondary information: filtered information. That information is useful but not as valuable as the information you would get directly from the people on the ground. And every time you add a layer between you and the source of information, the reliability of that information decreases.

Leaders who create a culture of open communication attract better leaders and team members; driven people are drawn to environments where their ideas and perspectives are valued. Conversely, a closed culture repels good leaders and intelligent people.

As you a leader, demand that your team members tell you the truth. When you place people in a leadership position, give them the right and responsibility to tell you the truth, nothing but the truth. It’s up to you to empower your people in that way.

About The Author

Vladimir Elie

I help people learn and apply success principles and strategies so that they can get the results they want in life.