The Secret To Great Leadership
For best leadership coaching, Recently I had asked senior leaders to provide their inputs on what should be essential skills required in someone they are seeking out as a coach, and here are the results:
Is this surprising? That the ability of a coach to listen, and listen really well is the key “skill” that leaders are looking for when they want to work on their key problem areas with the coach. And this skill supersedes the core subject expertise of the coach per se by quite a margin! Listening is indeed a skill that coaches should have so that they can understand not just what the leaders are speaking about, but issues that run deeper, and which can come out from meaningful conversations, the key element of which is the ability to give the leader a lending ear. So then, I ask you, as a leader to take one step back, and introspect.
How well do you listen to people in your team, or organization, depending on what your work profile demands? When I work to coach on different areas entailing good leadership skills like team conflicts, unreasonable clients, negative feedbacks, difficult employees, etc. one of the key, key requirements which are highlighted by almost any research is active listening skills. As a quick refresher, active listening is a notch higher, but multitudes more powerful, than listening because when you actively listen to someone, that means you indicate to them that you are listening, you are with them, you understand them, and you tweak your conversation accordingly. As some food for thought for seniors, here are a few problems I have personally witnessed that blocks us from actively listening to people and their issues:
- Pre-constructed conversation – You might have less time on your hands and lots of items to tick off your agenda for the day, or issues to resolve. This could mean that you have mentally prepared your points which you wish to pass on to your colleague during the meeting or conversation. So you call this colleague, take control of the conversation, and don’t allow the colleague to intervene till you are done. Even if the colleague’s body language was indicating to you that they were desperate for a word in, maybe because they wanted to justify their actions. But maybe also because there was some misunderstanding that needed to be clarified. What if it was the latter? Wouldn’t your time be saved had you allowed the conversation to take place slightly differently than you had planned?
- Preconceived stereotypes – This is THE biggest hurdle that I need to work with when it comes to coaching assignments. As one rises in experience, one faces various types of people and profiles, and since leaders are always short of time, they allow their stereotypes to help them sort out issues quickly. This helps in a lot of cases. But the problem is when stereotyping can heavily backfire. Why? Because as a leader, you are using your experience with one individual, to resolve the issue with another one, who might be very different as a person, might be different in accepting or even understanding how you are trying to help, might react differently than others and so on. Are you really focusing on the reactions of any single individual to help you get a hint about this?
- Anticipated Q&A – Say you are stepping into a difficult conversation. You believe you will understand the individual who will be a party to this conversation, because you are used to reading people’s nonverbal behavior well, and know each person on your team in and out. And thus you anticipate that the colleague to react in a certain way. Thus you are prepared with the behavior that is expected, and even the questions that would be asked. So when it comes to the colleague asking you questions, you answer them not as they are asking you, but rather what you anticipate they are asking. Thus the conversation goes nowhere. Had you focused on moments of changes in the colleague’s body language, or where words and behavior were going in different directions, you might have halted and given a second thought to whether what you anticipate to be happening, actually is.
- Non-compartmentalized emotions – Empathy is a great boon to have – it helps you to listen to, read, and understand the issues of your people, feel what they are feeling, and resolve them after stepping into their shoes. But then you are dealing with people in and out. What is also required is to quickly snap out of your emotion with one person so that you can begin with a fresh slate when it comes to the next colleague or client, or even family member. Balancing out emotions is a key element that can make you rise from a good leader to a great one.
- Monotonous Behaviour – Do you pay conscious thought to tweak the manner in which you hold your conversation, or show that you are listening to your colleague? This is generally done by focusing on your nonverbal behavior. This is required because, in order to actively listen to people, you need to indicate to them that you are indeed listening. You need to tune into their style of accepting what’s being discussed, becoming either more or less dominant or open as the situation and personality demands, and tweak your body language as well as conversation as required during the dialogue exchange.
Coaching, after all, is all about resolving issues at hand or in the heart. If you can learn the secret to actively listen to people around you, it can help you avoid the majority of problems in the first place. Having a sound and deep knowledge of nonverbal communication can help you overcome the above problems and ensure that when you do want to actively listen to people, you really are!
About the author: Khyati undertakes coaching assignments primarily for senior leaders and uses the technique of nonverbal communication to resolve issues, gaps in understanding, and tackling human behavior. She has trained for mastery in nonverbal communication with retired FBI special agent Joe Navarro and her thoughts are frequently quoted in leading media publications on various current affairs.