The Greek philophser, Epictetus, said ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’
Perhaps it is being of Irish/Scouse origin but I hardly ever meet and spend time with people who live by this ratio rule. That number gets even smaller when it comes to considering leaders in organisations.
Often their approach to communication is one-way. Broadcast. It smacks of a world we hoped to have long since left behind, when the big boss spoke with his (it was mostly his!) staff and told them what they needed to know. The idea of a dialogue, something two-way, never crossed their minds.
We like to think we live in more enlightened times. I fear we do not. My 15 years of working in organisations across the UK and beyond, across industries and of different shapes and sizes, tell me that leaders still spend most of their time talking at their organisations.
In the last year, I heard of a CEO who wanted to connect with their employees. They started a blog. They started to share their personal reflections of the week gone and their views on what was ahead. It was a big success. Lots of people read it and they started to respond, posting comments and questions. This was not in the CEO’s plan. He was perplexed. He thought he had found a new and interesting way of telling people stuff. He didn’t have time (or frankly the interest) to read what they thought and least of all to respond. He was too busy for that. The blog soon died and the employees who had hope they had been given a new and interesting way to be part of a conversation were left disappointed.
I once encountered a CEO whose idea of engaging with their organisation when developing its’ organisational values was to write them himself one Sunday morning and then to want to email them to everyone telling that these are your values. Not necessarily the best way to secure buy-in!
There is undoubtedly pressure on CEOs and other leaders to provide answers, to inspire, to inform. There is also the pressure of time and other priorities. But there should be pressure on them to engage – to create meaningful interaction. To listen. To build a relationship.
The best broadcasting makes the receiver feel it was written or spoken just for them, to them. It feels personal. It is tailored. Success in communicating (derived from the Latin to share) and in engaging is about hearing from others as well as them hearing from you.
Five years ago I was running for Parliament. I was taking part in hustings in the constituency at schools, local church halls and businesses. The best advice I got was from an MP who told me that the audience were attending to ask their questions as much as to hear my answers. Ask them what they think he said. Don’t talk too much. Allow time for listening. Not something that politicians are renowned for!
So to broadcast or receive that is the question? As with all things in life a healthy balance is needed. The leader who doesn’t listen, doesn’t learn. That leader doesn’t hear the great idea that could save their business money or help them get ahead of the competition. That leader doesn’t get buy-in for their strategy as they have not involved their colleagues enough. That leader doesn’t inspire. They don’t truly value their colleagues.
Next time you are standing in front of a group of colleagues or about to write an all staff email perhaps take time to ask for their views or ask them to reply with their feedback or ideas. You may be pleasantly surprised and so may they.