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How do you Encourage the Heart, Enable Others to Act, or Inspire a Shared Vision? After 20 years in the field as a teacher, school founder, principal, leadership coach, and organizational consultant, I have found that the answer lies in listening. And in my new book, The Listening Leader, I explore listening as a complex act that requires intention, skill, and humility—behaviors associated directly with The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®—and demonstrate how it is also the cornerstone of leading across differences in race, gender, and culture.

The Listening Leader weaves together story and theory to provide practical tools and key practices leaders can use to align their actions with the principles of The Leadership Challenge:

Humanize Your Data. We’ve grown accustomed to relying on what I call satellite data: high-level, quantitative metrics of success. While these are essential for measuring progress, leaders must also pay attention to qualitative, street-level data: the micronarratives (or anecdotes) that live by the water cooler or in the parking lot. Paying attention to street data and micronarrative patterns helps us hone our “outsight” and begin to transform a stuck organizational culture.

Practice Deep Listening. Deep listening is the foundational skill of The Listening Leader. It’s also a vehicle for building relational capital with others which, in turn, fuels organizational change. To practice deep listening, leaders must Encourage the Heart: pay attention to subtle cues and nonverbal signals, model empathy through active listening, and demonstrate affirmation toward those around us.

Practice Strategic Listening. If deep listening builds relational power, strategic listening builds brainpower. It’s the key to influencing others and unlocking mindsets and beliefs that act as barriers to change. Strategic listening requires leaders to orient others toward Inspiring a Shared Vision; incorporate reflective questioning as a core leadership technique; leverage data as a third point in collegial conversations; and help people figure out their next move. This practice is also foundational for Enabling Others to Act in courageous and innovative ways.

Redesign Your Meetings. Finally, The Listening Leader provides a four-part framework for redesigning meetings so that they cultivate high-performing teams. Detailed and practical hands-on advice demonstrates how leaders can reimagine staff and team meetings into what might best be described as a town square of human dynamics—a place that can either thwart or accelerate your organizational change efforts.


Shane Safir is a coach, writer, and facilitator. She was the founding co-principal of June Jordan School for Equity, an innovative national model identified by scholar Linda Darling-Hammond as having "beaten the odds in supporting the success of low-income students of color.” Visit her at shanesafir.com or follow her @ShaneSafir

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