A: In my coaching practice, I also encounter many leaders having trouble with “actively listening to diverse points of view.” In fact, I find that data from the LPI360 tends to rank the frequency of leaders’ behavior on this item lower than some of the other behaviors in the Enable Others to Act leadership Practice.
There might be a few explanations for this. Perhaps most importantly, active listening requires that we set aside our beliefs, thoughts, and opinions about something in order to actually approach someone else's beliefs, thoughts, and opinions about that same thing with an open mind. Let's be honest, this can be HARD. We love our own opinions and have a proclivity to place value on our own thoughts before others'.
To help my clients develop a broader mindset around this leadership behavior I like to start the coaching conversation by asking leaders how they feel when their differing thoughts and opinions are openly listened to. I frequently get answers like:
“I feel respected”
“I feel like my opinion matters”
“I feel empowered”
“I feel valued”
“I feel like a contributor”
“I feel important”
The natural next question is “When your point of view is not being listened to by others, how do you feel in those moments?” Not all that surprising, the common responses I hear are:
Our job as coaches is to help leaders connect the impact of their behavior to the environment they are creating for their teams. And to that end I find it valuable to help them understand these three foundational truths:
- At our core, we want to know that we are respected and valued. It doesn't matter if this is in the workplace, at home, or out in the greater world—it holds true.
- We feel respected and valued when our thoughts and opinions are truly heard, even if they are not agreed with.
- We are less likely to contribute ideas and thoughts when we are around people who don’t consider anyone else's opinions but their own.
Guide the leader toward understanding that when people continue to feel their ideas are not welcome, they will eventually stop offering them up, which can be deadly to an organization. However, when people feel listened to (and thus valued, needed, and important) they will contribute more, which fuels a creative environment for innovation and risk-taking, ultimately moving the organization forward. The type of environment we create as leaders through our listening (or lack thereof) has big implications.
In helping leaders understand these three core truths, it’s important to keep in mind that at the root of this behavior is respect. And to make that link more directly, you might consider taking a look at LPI Behavior #14 to see how frequently the leader “treats others with dignity and respect.” When someone’s frequency in “actively listens to diverse points of view” is low, it’s not uncommon to see a lower frequency for “treats others with dignity and respect,” as the two are connected. If you find a correlation here, be sure to point out that by focusing on raising the frequency of behavior #9, they may very well see an increased frequency of behavior #14 the next time they take the LPI.
Inevitably, someone will ask me “But what about those times when I know I have the right solution? Do I have to sit and listen to a bunch of people throw out their ideas when I know the direction we should go? It’s a waste of time.” This is an excellent opportunity to coach leaders on discerning when they really need to step in and steer the group in a particular direction (while respectfully acknowledging others’ ideas), versus letting the group continue with their creative discourse even if they have a strong opinion on something. This is important because “actively listening to diverse points of view” is also tied to Enable Others to Act behavior #29, “ensures that people grow in their jobs by learning new skills and developing themselves.”
When we foster an environment where people are encouraged to fearlessly share their ideas and let their opinions be known, it becomes the breeding ground for learning and growth. Help leaders you are coaching understand that sometimes, as painful as it may be when they feel they have the right solution, they may best serve everyone else by sitting back and actively listening to what is being offered up because the people in the room are developing themselves as they explore, collaborate, and dialogue together. It is not wasted time.
Wherever your coaching clients may find themselves, they can count on this certainty: the best leaders are not only the best learners but also great listeners. As Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner describe it, exemplary leaders “listen carefully to what other people have to say and how they feel. They have to ask good (and often tough) questions, be open to ideas other than their own, and even lose arguments in favor of the common good.”
Amy Savage, a Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge, is Co-founder and President of Fine Points Leadership, a Leadership Challenge® Global Training Partner that specializes in helping leaders increase their influence by changing behavior. She is a passionate LPI® Coach with over 15 years of experience working with the instrument. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.