Learn to be quiet enough to hear the sound of the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it in others.
– Marian Wright Edelman
A common problem with leaders, especially as they transition to a leadership role, is listening – especially truly listening. By this point in your career you have progressed by speaking up and being noticed – probably by leaders who do know how to listen. Transitioning to focusing on listening is difficult.
Truly listening requires being very present, aware, and mindful of what the other person is saying. Don’t think of it as a pause between what you said before and what you want to say when the person is done. Don’t check your phone or think about other projects. Just listen. Let the person know what you heard to validate what was said. Ask questions that create dialogue on the issue, not short responses. At the end, reflect on what was said and what you learned, and be open to changing your previous opinion and perceptions. Communicate the next steps, and follow up to demonstrate that it is important to you.
Similarly, communicate openly and transparently, but softly and only when necessary. A hallmark of the best leaders I’ve been lucky to work for and with is that they are often the quietest person in the room. They don’t feel the need to assert authority through speech as they have already earned it with authenticity. When speaking, every word should be necessary and have meaning. Being concise is powerful, and respects the time of others. Think about and plan everything you say, but keep it real and authentic.
One of the facts of being a leader is that we have to deal with conflicts – be they between coworkers, between peers, or even with our spouse or other family members. Most of us aren’t exactly thrilled when we’re faced with a conflict, and a typical response is to clam up or make a hasty decision. Anything to resolve the situation quickly so we can move on to more fun tasks like analyzing the P&L.
Mindful leadership requires a different approach. Respect the other person, or the people with the conflict, by truly listening. Don’t assume you understand the context and their perspectives. Ask questions to get to the root cause. Display humility, and put yourself in the servant position trying to enable the success of the people and organization. Be authentic by reinforcing your values and principles. Remember that solutions don’t have to be win-lose.
How does that change the outcome? How does it change your natural fear of conflict? How does it change your organization’s propensity to have conflict in the first place? Does conflict even shift from a negative to a positive way to find deeper meaning and better ideas?