A Listening Leader
One of the lost arts of leadership today may be the simple yet profound power of listening. James had it in the right order when he quipped “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” James 1:19-20 (NIV).
In a large complex conglomerate like the BGCT the ability to communicate and to cast a vision stand as a key component of great leadership, but in order to have something to say and a vision to cast a wise leader is a good listener, especially in times of transition and change. Recently political commentator Chris Matthews released a new book entitled Life’s A Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success. In his chapter entitled: “The Best Gift You Can Give a Stranger Is an Audience”, he points out how great political leaders used their “ears” as much as their “mouths” to advance the cause of change and growth.
Matthews noted speaking of presidential politicians “Keep in mind that poll number showing that citizens prefer the politician who listens to the one who talks”. He even noted the dark leader Machiavelli said, “The prince who fails to recognize troubles in his state as they arise is not truly wise”.
A couple of years ago I did some research on this topic of a listening leader and was inspired by the following insights from a wide variety of writers on leadership.
Good leaders seek constant sources of feedback, so they can stay on top of the needs and opportunities of the organization by listening to their people. Good leaders are good listeners. These leaders do “continual systematic ‘naïve’ listening from as many angles as possible.” Don Biles recommends what he calls “Ministry by Wandering Around” because the pulpit is a “lousy listening post.” In order for these interactions to be effective, a leader must create a “climate where the truth can be heard.” Jim Collins recommends four basic practices to create this climate:
1. Lead with questions, not answers.
2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.
3. Conduct autopsies, without blame.
4. Build “red flag” mechanism. (Jim Collins, Good to Great)
In order to get the information vital for the organization, Jim Collins recommends a leader must have the “guts to ask dumb questions” because it is the elementary “dumb” questions followed up by a dozen more elementary questions that yields the “pay dirt.” Peter Senge goes a step further by recommending that leaders also be willing to ask the hard questions that do not have “easy answers.” For these dialogues to have meaning leaders must be willing to learn how to be good listeners. Peters describes the characteristics of good listening as:
1. To begin with, good listeners get out from behind the desk.
2. Further, good listeners construct settings so as to maximize “naïve” listening, the undistorted sort.
3. Finally, good listeners provide quick feedback and act on what they hear. (Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos)
As our search committee diligently goes about their task, pray the Lord will raise up among us a leader with a bold vision, and a leader willing to listen.
In closing a personal application from Chris Matthews: “It’s not a bad idea to do this whenever you meet anybody. Try to grasp what the other person has in his or her mind. Make him or her the subject of the conversation. It’s good manners. Besides, you might learn something”.
Remember: “Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to become angry”—James