In These Desperate Times, Being Able To Actively Listen Is Essential As A Leader.
By Steve Schumacher
We are all facing unprecedented times. We are being tested in both our personal and professional lives. Confusion and incomplete information make planning incredibly difficult. Leaders struggle trying to forge a path in their own lives while leading the way for the employees in their organizations.t With so much uncertainty in our lives, creating a compelling vision for employees is tougher than ever.
Many of our leaders have spent years honing our skills at strategy development, cost control, marketing, sales, employee development, etc. Companies have spent millions of dollars helping their leaders build skill sets for the future, only to find that COVID-19 and its devastation has taken a priority and the role of the leaders has changed dramatically. There is one skill that is hugely important for all leaders all the time, and especially vital in this time of chaos and uncertainty – active listening.
All of us have been impacted by this virus in some way. To some degree, we are all confused as to what to do next, which information can we trust and what people can we trust to guide us. Each of your employees is one of the affected multitudes. The only difference is that your employees are on your payroll. First and foremost, your employees need to rely on you as one person that will listen to anything and everything that is on their mind without judgment, listening only to understand and help if you can.
Meet with each of your employees face-to-face. This may sound like a challenge, but it is the only way to truly show that you care about your employees. For you to make that happen speaks loudly to your willingness and desire to hear personally what is on the minds of your employees. Yes, emails and texts would be quicker with a broader reach, but they are not personal, and what your employees want now is to see you personally. Yes, there are a lot of obstacles to meeting with each employee personally. True leaders look for ways to make it happen vs. reasons not to.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Yes, you have an agenda with all of your employees. You feel a need to remind people of the organization’s mission, vision and values. You want to put together strategies and action plans to keep the organization moving forward. When people feel out of balance and unsure, they are not listening to all of your problem-solving and pronouncements. Your employees want to know that you care and will listen, period.
Ask open-ended questions. Your objective, when meeting with your employees, is to get them to open up and share their feelings about whatever is on their minds. Asking questions that start with who, what, where, when, why, and how will help you do that. Closed-ended questions evoke one-word, short responses. When people start talking, use your best probing skills to get to the core of what they are thinking about.
Share only what you know for certain. In our social media connected world, there are more opinions than any one person can decipher. Remember, as a leader, your employees will hang on every word you say and watch your body language very closely. Most likely, you have a lot of credibility with your employees. That is a good thing when information is clear and reliable but it can be a bad thing when the information available is not necessarily reliable. Before you share answers to questions your employees will naturally have, do your homework and check the information source before you share what you know as fact. When giving employees information about what you know, always add the disclaimer that the situation is fluid and the information today may be different tomorrow.
Thank you and keep the door open. As soon as possible, send a note to each employee thanking them for taking the time to meet with you and share what is on their minds during this chaotic time. Oftentimes, the first time you meet personally with employees, they will hold back a bit. This is natural skepticism. When they see you are being genuine, employees will begin to feel more comfortable with talking about their fears and challenges during the pandemic. As they become more confident in talking to you, it is important you show your door is always open to those conversations. Make the boundaries clear. Active listening should be a constant for you as a leader, not a flash in the pan.
Active listening is a skill that will pay dividends anytime. In our current crisis, it is vital that your employees know you will be a good listener.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].