Recently, while consulting with a professional association, I asked the leadership team why they were so excited about the appointment of their new director, someone appointed from within their ranks. They answered, “She knows us, she is one of us, and she listens to what we think.” A hardy endorsement, indeed. However, when appointed from within the organization, there are new listening challenges. The perspective of a leader appointed from within the ranks has the advantage of organizational knowledge, but she or he will need to gain the confidence of employees from other divisions that their needs also will be heard and appreciated. Listening, really listening, is an excellent beginning.
I recommended to the new leader that she plan individual and group listening sessions. Begin by conducting intensive listening sessions with your direct reports and with people who have responsibility for different segments of the organization or company. Ask a trusted employee to take notes on the sessions to be sure the main points, tone, and productive ideas are captured. Also, ask the trusted employee to provide feedback on how well you as leader listened in the sessions.
Plan open-ended questions that will invite more discussion. At the beginning of an individual listening session, one employee said, “Oh, this again, the last director had a session with me, too, but he only wanted to tell me what he thought.” Reassure the employee by listening – really listening to what she or he has to say.
Let people tell you a bit of their history. They want the person in charge to know them, not just their spot on the organizational chart. Followup with questions about successful projects they enjoyed being a part of, whether in your organization or another. Ask what they like about the job and what would they like to see changed. Follow their lead with your responses, rather than moving mechanically to the next question. End the sessions by asking if there is anything else the person wants you to know.
Group listening sessions also can be productive. After you have conducted intensive listening sessions with your direct reports and with people who have responsibility for different segments of the organization, schedule some group listening sessions. Encourage supervisors of those in the groups listening sessions to be listeners, too.
Plan a feedback loop. Report what you learned in the listening sessions to large audiences of your organization. Schedule video-conferences if an in-person meeting is not possible. Be specific enough in your summary that people know you really listened and you learned from them.
Conduct individual and group listening
sessions with feedback to employees about
what was learned in the sessions. When the
leader listens, really listens, employees know
they are important assets to the company and
to your success as a leader.