In a world that has become more digital and collaborative — where everyone struggles to be heard — the temptation is to shout louder. But what if a different leadership style could be more effective? What if listening rather than broadcasting could make us agile in an unpredictable world?
Listening-centric leadership is a big departure from traditional management styles, which are based on being the most dominant force in the room. But it’s fast gaining traction. For example, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, Peter Bregman cracks the code on the power of listening: “It’s counter-intuitive, but it turns out that listening is far more persuasive than speaking. Silence is a greatly underestimated source of power. In silence, we can hear not only what is being said but also what is not being said.”
In her mega-selling book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” Susan Cain echoes this sentiment and explains, “We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.” This same principle is the thesis of a recent CMO article entitled, “To Be Heard, Turn Down the Volume” in which Jeff Pundyk of The Economist Group writes, “Without more listening, there’s little learning; without meaningful participation, there’s little chance for engagement.”
“Quiet Power” is making its way into the management leagues here at Cisco, where I work. Conscious Leaders is a revolutionary new leadership development programme we’re using in the EMEAR region. One of its central tenants is a Predictive intelligence (PI) approach to keeping up with current trends. PI extolls focusing on what is about to emerge, not what has already happened. Leaders and teams can take a more relaxed mindset and enjoy the challenge of looking ahead, not the angst of chasing to keep up. Said another way, PI reminds us to stop broadcasting our ideas and opinions so we have the mental space to listen to what others are telling us. After all, if you’re not listening, how will you be able to spot market transitions, and capitalize on them?
Not convinced? Still believe that a strong and vocal argument is the best way to make your point? Let’s go back to Peter Bregman, who explains, “Arguing does not change minds — if anything, it makes people more intransigent.”
So why do so many people persist in broadcasting instead of listening? Bregman goes on to say, “We don’t [listen] because it’s uncomfortable. It requires that we listen to perspectives with which we may disagree and listen to people we may not like. But that’s what teamwork — and leadership — calls us to do. To listen to others, to see them fully, and to help them connect their desires, perspectives, and interests with the larger outcome we all, ultimately, want to achieve.”
In case you’re thinking listening-centric leadership is a fleeting fad, it has actually been around for thousands of years! In fact, Lau Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher wrote: A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
This is a leadership style that comes naturally to many women. I don’t physically have a loud speaking voice and sometimes struggle to be heard in forums designed to reward the person who can shout the loudest. Because of this, I tend to listen more than I shout, which could be seen by some as weakness. However, when I do speak, I like to think it is with knowledge and wisdom. I make it count.
What’s your management style? In this noisy, digital world in which we live are you going to shout above the noise or be quiet – and listen to what you hear?