Communication is the key to business success and leadership. Unfortunately, many leaders, founders, and CEOs spend all of their time on communication thinking about how to share the vision or communicate their ideas to their people. They think very little about how to hear the ideas from their team.
Legendary CEO James Cash Penney, the entrepreneur who founded J. C. Penney stores in 1902, had a different philosophy on communication. He believed that a leaders ability to communicate came not from talking, but rather from listening. He once said, “Listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.”
Real communication is taking what is in the heart and mind of one person and placing it in the heart and mind of another. Notice that both heart and mind are essential elements of excellent communication. The leader of an organization needs to understand not only why a person “thinks” the way they do, but also how they feel about an idea, principle, or decision. The only way to learn of another persons’ heart and mind is through listening.
How to become the chief listening officer of your company
1. Practice thoughtful listening
Listening is a habit. Of all of the skills that a leader must learn, listening is one of the most important. Therefore, every leader should begin to develop habits and places to practice and enhance their ability to listen.
One way leaders can strengthen their ability to listen is by taking a silent retreat each year to listen to their inner voice. A quiet retreat is a one-day event where the leader is to spend a block of time (usually 8 hours) eliminating all noise and sounds. It is a day of complete silence. This one-day event enhances the ability of the leader to listen.
2. Place a priority on listening
The chief listening officer of a company will value listening and create mechanisms to better listen to the voice of the people around them. These mechanisms could come from an internal survey, a town hall meeting, or by scheduling one on ones with each person on the team. The first step to becoming a great listener is to communicate with the team that listening is a leadership priority.
3. Pursue a more in-depth understanding before responding
I mentor CEOs to develop and master the practice of the “Two Question Rule.” When I work with teams that do not seem to be listening to each other, I ask them to set a principle of asking two questions of the speaker before they respond with an answer, critique, or criticism.
This simple rule stops the listeners from responding without having to consider if they have heard and understood what the speaker is communicating. Great leaders ask great questions, and this principle is especially true of the listening leader.
4. Practice and perfect the pause
One of the most impactful communication tools that a speaker has at their disposal is the “power of the pause.” In speaking, the pause will communicate that the speaker is getting ready to say something of importance. The speaker can also pause after they have just communicated something of significance to communicate to the listeners that they should soak in what has just been communicated.
The “power of the pause” can enhance any presentation and make it much more impactful. The pause can influential in listening as well. A good leader will pause after someone has spoken to ensure that they have taken in all that has been said. The pause creates space to hear and signifies that what is being communicated is of importance and significance.
Communication is essential to business success. Listening is key to leadership success. Remember the words of James Cash Penny when he said, “Listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.”
Ken Gosnell is the CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience). He serves leaders by helping them to have great experiences that both transform them and their organizations that enable to go further faster. He has worked with hundreds of CEOs and leadership teams to enhance strategic, operational and people accomplishments. He is an author, coach, and strategic partner with CEOs. Ken is the creator and facilitator of the Christian CEO Linkedin Group and creator of the CEO Experience Impact Assessment. He is married to Shonda, and they have four children. Connect with @ken_gosnell on Twitter.