The Discipline of Listening in the Social Media Age

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Harvard Business Review published an article last month titled “The Discipline of Listening” – the article was interesting on many fronts in relation to the demands placed on business leaders, entrepreneurs, and CEO’s. We all live in a world that is now uber-connected, uber-social, we’re “on” 24/7 – yet through all this its the old school skills that still resonate, that define the difference between good and great – and this was a point touched on in this article.

As you read the article, you’ll note that GE, one of our global markers of enterprise excellence, now rates listening as one of its desirable traits – in fact its one of the top 4 characteristics of a great leader.

General Electric—long considered the preeminent company for producing leaders—redefined what it seeks in its leaders. Now it places “listening” among the most desirable traits in potential leaders. Indeed, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt has said that “humble listening” is among the top four characteristics in leaders.

This approach by GE is interesting given the ongoing debate about CEO’s being laggards in relation to social media. It seems too easy to accuse CEO’s of being out of touch because they’re not “on Twitter” or using one of the myriad other channels. Yet on the other hand for GE and executive peer advisory groups like Vistage/TEC “humble listening” is at the heart of how they develop leaders – for close to 50 years now Vistage/TEC has been promoting this idea of what you hear vs what you speak

So I argue it’s not about what emails I’m getting or how cool my iPad is – it’s about what I’m hearing, it’s about the perspective of a peer who has heard something different but who’s perspective I value and trust. Because it’s about being open to alternate views – it’s about being in the now..

I also like how TEC and Vistage takes this a step further…

In a peer environment, I find myself in a position where I can open up and discuss issues with a group of peers who are “in this with me” – I can raise issues or seek feedback on “stuff” – but in doing so I commit to my peers that I’ll take their input – that I’ll listen – because they bring a unique and different perspective. But in doing so I have to be prepared to learn from how they listen to me?

Often what they hear is an indicator of how I communicate – have I communicated effectively? Have I framed my own thinking in a way that will lead me to an optimal outcome? Out of this group discussion though is the most profound question that could be asked of the person raising the issue – what did you hear?

What Did You Hear?

The ultimate litmus test – what GE says is top 4 – is central to this leadership group – have i listened? Have I really listened? Am I an open leader?

Where To From Here?

As business leaders we don’t live in a vacuum – external input is important. we’ve got to get out from behind our devices and really engage with those around us.

So as we embrace the digital and social age it’s important that we retain that core skill of being an effective listener.

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