Hello? Are You Listening? Adaptive Leadership, Part 3

This post about effective listening is the third in a series of blogs on adaptive leadership.

It is my belief that foundational leadership principles give leaders the ability to build teams capable of handling whatever might come their way. This series is based around what we at Level Five Associates have as one of our foundations: “The Big Six.”

The Big Six are the result of years of personal experience and observation of what make great teams work.

Part of what we consider so important about The Big Six Leadership Principles® is a belief that these concepts are, essentially, universal and unchangeable.

The underlying principles are always the same, giving us as leaders a foundation to build resilient — and adaptable — teams.

The second principle of the Big Six is Listen. We’ve got to get everyone involved in the conversation. We really need to internalize what Stephen Covey said about listening with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply.

It’s fundamentally important now that when we have conversations with each other in these sessions, whether they’re one-on-one or as a team, we use the backbrief to confirm what we heard. We also need to ask the right questions. In an environment where team members may be remote, listening is more important than ever.

We’ve talked about “power questions” in the past, and we’ll talk some more about them here in terms of asking meaningful questions. Some of those questions may be a little different than the ones we’re used to asking, but we need to learn to ask them. We need to ensure that we’re doing regular check-ins with our team members and with our key leaders.

At the start of the pandemic, I wrote a blog called Call Me and talked about having a telephone-tree kind of idea whereby we called individual members of our team to check in with them to see how they’re doing.

Going forward, our “power question” architecture in listening is likely to be asking more deliberate questions of our team members about how they are feeling, how they are coping, what they are doing to establish a routine, and what their biggest challenges are. Some of these questions may be personal as well as professional. We’re now merging the environments. It’s much harder to say, “Well, I’m just going to take this challenge to work and I’m going to leave that challenge at home” if the two places may no longer be physically separated.

Here’s another power question to ask team members: “Is there anyone close to you who needs help in some way?” We’re going to get a little more personal with some of the questions we’re asking, and once we have the answers, it’s vital that we do what we can to help folks deal with the challenges. Oftentimes we don’t really ask people where they could use some help.

With the likelihood of remote work becoming a “new normal,” we’ve got to become more and more comfortable sharing with people, on a screen or by telephone, some of the challenges that we’re facing. And it’s important to encourage others to share their challenges with us. There’s a lot of anxiety out there, and we need to be more effective listeners to help one another deal with it.

We also need to become “listening leaders” in adapting to the world. Let’s take meetings as an example. Oftentimes I’ve found that meetings were places where people sort of checked out until it was their turn to speak. We can’t have those kinds of meetings anymore. We’ve got to develop meetings that are truly meaningful. We’ll talk more about that a little bit later.

Here’s a question I was asked that relates both to the first (Set Your Azimuth) and second (Listen) principles: “What is the best way to deal with some of the fear and uncertainty that many on our teams have?” Since the advent of COVID-19, the anxiety level, or fear factor, has been very high. (As circumstances change, that fear might decrease, it might increase. We need to be aware of that.)

Oftentimes we try to hide it behind a facade of some kind. That’s an old-fashioned way of dealing with the issue, though. In my view, the best way to deal with anxieties is to reinforce the drumbeats of the organization—the azimuth: the mission, the intent, the values, and the culture. Every time someone does something to reinforce our mission, our intent, our values, and our culture, I think we need to recognize that in a positive, uplifting way.

We also need to ask questions to get meaningful information and then listen to the answers we get. When you ask someone, “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?” you may get responses that are outside the lines of your particular technical responsibilities or the corporate vision that you’re pursuing. Be willing to listen to those. Sometimes people don’t want you to solve their problem. They just want you to listen to what they have to say.

Empathetic listening is very powerful. That’s the kind of listening in which you really do care about what someone is telling you. You may not be able to fix it, but you’re willing to listen to it. I think you can reduce some of the fear and uncertainty by giving people the chance to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns with you.


This blog is based on my eBook “Who Saw This Coming?” You can get a free downloadable copy of the entire eBook here.

Enjoy the Journey!





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