Listening Is an Overlooked Leadership Tool

“What do you think?”

I ask this question a lot. My team knows that when they come to me with a question, this is likely the question I’ll come back with first. Sometimes I even preface it with, “I don’t know.” As leaders in our organizations, it’s up to us to coach colleagues and our employees through finding that answer. More often than not, when I ask this question, my team has a better answer than I do — or one that I hadn’t thought about before.

It can be a powerful technique, especially if there is no single right answer – a situation that will be familiar to anyone doing leading-edge work. But it only works in an organization that values listening.

In a growing, constantly changing company like Twitter, there aren’t a lot of things that remain the same for very long. New teams form, new team members join, and projects shift based on new priorities.

With so few anchors in our work environment, and so many variables we can’t control, it’s important to double down on the things we can control.

Listening is an overlooked tool that creates an environment of safety when done well. Several studies over the decades have estimated that we spend anywhere from a third to half our time listening. And yet we don’t retain very much. Back in 1957, researchers found that listeners only remembered about half of what they’d heard immediately after someone finished talking. There’s no reason to think that ratio has improved since then.

Listening can be a challenging skill to master. In our management development sessions, we find it helpful to highlight three levels of listening:

Internal listening is focused on your own thoughts, worries, and priorities, even as you pretend you’re focusing on the other person. In our sessions, we usually illustrate this type of listening with a simple prop — an iPhone. People laugh, not because it’s funny, but because they recognize that this type of listening is what they often do themselves.

Focused listening is being able to focus on the other person, but you’re still not connecting fully to them. The phone may be down and you may be nodding in agreement, but you may not be picking up on the small nuances the person is sharing.

360 listening. This is where the magic happens. You’re not only listening to what the person is saying, but how they’re saying it — and, even better, what they’re not saying, like when they get energized about certain topics or when they pause and talk around others.

When I close my laptop and it’s just me and the person across the table, there’s a connection. There’s energy. There’s the reminder of what’s possible if we focus on what the other person has to say. I’m reminded of why what we’re building together matters.

Listening creates spaciousness, which we need to do good work. And the converse is also true: I listen more when I create space in my day. When I have back-to-back meetings, my goal is to get through them with just enough time to run to the other building for my next meeting. When I strategically create space on my calendar to reflect on a conversation and prepare for the next one, I can be more present for others.

During an eventful one-on-one with my manager earlier in my career, I was busy giving my update on all the things I was working on. I said, “The only thing I have left to do is…” She stopped me mid-sentence. “What are all of these things helping to solve in the organization?” There it was. Boom. A powerful question. That manager illuminated my focus on getting stuff done, and the problem with not tying it back to any kind of strategic priority in the company. She went on to ask, “How does all of this fit together?” Those two questions fundamentally changed how I approached my work. She’s also the same manager who would have her laptop up during most of our one-on-ones, and nod her head and smile as I shared updates, half-listening. It was only when her laptop was closed and her schedule wasn’t jammed with meetings that I got something out of our meetings. We connected, I learned, and we both felt like we accomplished something out of the conversation.

I recently talked about this with Eileen Fisher and Kit Crawford at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Eileen is the Founder and Chairwoman of Eileen Fisher, Inc. and Kit is owner and co-chief visionary officer of Clif Bar & Company. When I asked how each of them lead, both of them said through listening.

Eileen said she didn’t know anything about business when she first started her company, so she had to really listen to people, to learn and understand. Kit tries to include people who don’t instinctively speak up in meetings. She’ll ask them for their opinion directly. Both have also dealt with intense legal situations in which they had to listen to the points of view of multiple stakeholders. They asked questions, inquired more deeply into why each person felt a particular course of action was the right one, and ultimately made the final decision. As Kit put it, “The more we listen to ourselves, the more we have a different opportunity to choose. Listen to others and then be brave with your decision.”

So how can we listen more? Three suggestions to try this week:

Look people in the eye. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT who studies the psychology of online connectivity, wisely wrote in her recent book Reclaiming Conversation, “We face a significant choice. It is not about giving up our phones but about using them with greater intention. Conversation is there for us to reclaim.” Put down your phone when you’re in meetings. Close your laptop. See if you’re more energized about work and the people with whom you work.

Create space in your day. Manage your calendar and stop booking yourself out the entire day. Can someone on your team be part of that meeting? Does it need to be an hour, or can 30 minutes suffice? Give yourself time for reflection and space throughout the day, so that when you are talking with someone, you can give them your full attention.

Ask more questions. Next time a colleague or employee asks for advice, make sure you’re listening and understand the situation. Then, before answering, ask a question. Clarify what they really need — usually it’s just validation that their thinking is on the right track.

As with everything, there are always exceptions. We can’t always ask questions; if we’re really listening to the other person, we realize that sometimes he or she needs more direction, guidance and even a point of view. And the reality is that most often we can’t simply turn our devices off and leave them in a drawer.

We at Twitter are evangelists of the power of social media platforms to connect people and share information at lightning speed all over the world. However, we’ve got to insist on time for uninterrupted face-to-face conversation. Even in a world of limitless, instantaneous, global connection, the most powerful mode of communication is that of two people listening.

Melissa Daimler currently heads the Global Learning & Organizational Development team @Twitter, integrating interests in learning, coaching, and organizational dynamics into a career. Follow Melissa @mdaimler



The 7 Essential Practices of Leadership That Works

The craft of leadership is the art and science of influencing others.  The 21st century is unfolding at an unprecedented pace with exponential complexity. Mastering this craft in the new millennium demands an understanding of both enduring leadership principles and essentialhigh-impact leadership practices .

In my over 40 years of leadership study and experience at world-class global companies – including my tenure as President of Nabisco Foods, my decade as CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and my experience as Chairman of Avon Products  --  I've developed an evolved leadership approach that is tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people. And I've learned a lot about what practices actually work in the real world to engage employees and deliver sustainable performance. Now, I’m devoted to sharing that knowledge, and empowering leaders, by championing leadership that works in the 21st century. To that end, I’ve developed a high-impact leadership model that outlines the 7 essential leadership practices you will need to perform in today’s complex world.

The ConantLeadership Flywheel:

The key to Leadership That Works is found in the 7 connected practice areas of the ConantLeadership Flywheel. Each pillar in the flywheel is anchored in trust, which is the foundational element of elite performance; when they are developed in harmony — they are a powerful, self-reinforcing tool for transforming individuals and organizations with everlasting momentum. I'll briefly develop each of these 7 essential leadership practices below. 

Inspire Trust

Earn the confidence of all stakeholders.

Trust  is the foundation upon which all other leadership behaviors depend. Your actions must be anchored in trust or the flywheel ceases to function properly and the momentum comes to a halt. As you work to develop your craft — you must continually inspire trust at every step along the way. You really have no choice.

To Inspire Trust:

  • Honor all stakeholders.
  • Declare yourself and do what you say you are going to do.
  • Develop and display character and competence – consistently.
  • Uphold high ethical standards.
  • Model the behavior you expect from others.
  • Acknowledge mistakes.
  • Consistently meet performance expectations.

1. Clarify Higher Purpose

Craft an inspiring ‘calling’ that resonates with all stakeholders and delivers economic and social value.

A higher purpose guides your work and provides a reservoir of vitality that invigorates the effort. This practice area must be attended to first – both at the individual and organizational level. An inspiring calling will govern your leadership, tether the work to shared meaning, and ensure you continue on the right path in the face of adversity.

To Clarify Higher Purpose:

  • Craft an aspirational calling that resonates with all stakeholders and delivers economic and social value.
  • Champion the higher purpose with intentionality, passion, persistence, and humility.
  • Ensure the higher purpose governs the direction of the organization.

2. Create Direction

Develop a competitively advantaged direction for advancing the agenda.

To advance the agenda and realize the Higher Purpose – you must collaboratively develop a clear and compelling plan for achieving agreed upon goals. This practice area is essential for building a clear-eyed approach that unmistakably points you in the right direction.

To Create Direction:

  • Confront the brutal facts facing you or your organization, question assumptions, challenge paradigms.
  • Build an aspirational but achievable plan for advancing the agenda while honoring all stakeholders.
  • Dispel ambiguity – make sure the expectations of the plan are clear to all.

3. Drive Alignment

Organize and leverage all resources to advance the agenda in a quality way.

Once you have clarity of Purpose and Direction you must organize all the resources at your disposal to bring the planned agenda to fruition. This practice area is crucial in developing a system that enables the right work to be done with speed and focus – and ensures you are properly positioned for success.

To Drive Alignment:

  • Organize resources (people, finances, time) to deliver the plan, task, or goal.
  • Establish a self-sustaining process that enables everybody to work towards the plan with agility.
  • Confirm all stakeholders understand their roles and responsibilities.

4. Build Vitality

Motivate all to be fully engaged in advancing the direction in a way that honors all stakeholders.

It is unrealistic to expect extraordinary effort and performance without creating an environment in which people feel extraordinarily valued. This practice area requires you to give people the energy to do their best work while also challenging them to do better. Leaders must work to engage all stakeholders and to create a high-energy culture.

To Build Vitality:

  • Energize all to be actively engaged in delivering the desired performance.
  • Celebrate achievements and acknowledge shortcomings.
  • Challenge all to do better through swift and constructive feedback.

5. Execute with Excellence

Assure the direction is executed with excellence — course-correcting as needed.

All the strategic planning and good intentions you can muster do not amount to leadership that works. In the real world, strong execution is foundational and mandatory to leadership success. This practice area demands that plans are vigorously attended to, that results are tracked and measured, and that progress is not waylaid by obstacles.

To Execute with Excellence

  • Implement plans with disciplined task management.
  • Act decisively.
  • Measure progress and adapt as needed.

6. Produce Extraordinary Results

Meet or exceed performance expectations.

A plan can be executed to the letter and still not produce the agreed upon outcome. But leadership is about getting things done. You must be unmistakably focused on delivering the desired results in a quality way. This practice area pushes leaders to be ever-mindful of their commitment to performance — and to evaluate every effort with a view towards meeting or exceeding expectations.

To Produce Extraordinary Results

  • Deliver.
  • Embrace a results-oriented mindset
  • Attend wisely to the near-term and the long-term.

As you become more proficient in the practice areas of the flywheel, I encourage you to explore your unique leadership perspective. Use this resource as a starting point that sparks a journey of self- discovery. Ultimately, you can use these principles to inspire the creation of your own robust leadership model that is rooted in your personal experience and point of view.


How Great Companies Think Differently

It’s time that beliefs and theories about business catch up with the way great companies operate and how they see their role in the world today. Traditionally, economists and financiers have argued that the sole purpose of business is to make money—the more the better. That conveniently narrow image, deeply embedded in the American capitalist system, molds the actions of most corporations, constraining them to focus on maximizing short-term profits and delivering returns to shareholders. Their decisions are expressed in financial terms.

I say convenient because this lopsided logic forces companies to blank out the fact that they command enormous resources that influence the world for better or worse and that their strategies shape the lives of the employees, partners, and consumers on whom they depend. Above all, the traditional view of business doesn’t capture the way great companies think their way to success. Those firms believe that business is an intrinsic part of society, and they acknowledge that, like family, government, and religion, it has been one of society’s pillars since the dawn of the industrial era. Great companies work to make money, of course, but in their choices of how to do so, they think about building enduring institutions. They invest in the future while being aware of the need to build people and society.

In this article, I turn the spotlight on this very different logic—a social or institutional logic—which lies behind the practices of many widely admired, high-performing, and enduring companies. In those firms, society and people are not afterthoughts or inputs to be used and discarded but are core to their purpose. My continuing field research on admired and financially successful companies in more than 20 countries on four continents is the basis for my thinking about the role of institutional logic in business.

Institutional logic holds that companies are more than instruments for generating money; they are also vehicles for accomplishing societal purposes and for providing meaningful livelihoods for those who work in them. According to this school of thought, the value that a company creates should be measured not just in terms of short-term profits or paychecks but also in terms of how it sustains the conditions that allow it to flourish over time. These corporate leaders deliver more than just financial returns; they also build enduring institutions.

Rather than viewing organizational processes as ways of extracting more economic value, great companies create frameworks that use societal value and human values as decision-making criteria. They believe that corporations have a purpose and meet stakeholders’ needs in many ways: by producing goods and services that improve the lives of users; by providing jobs and enhancing workers’ quality of life; by developing a strong network of suppliers and business partners; and by ensuring financial viability, which provides resources for improvements, innovations, and returns to investors.

In developing an institutional perspective, corporate leaders internalize what economists have usually regarded as externalities and define a firm around its purpose and values. They undertake actions that produce societal value—whether or not those actions are tied to the core functions of making and selling goods and services. Whereas the aim of financial logic is to maximize the returns on capital, be it shareholder or owner value, the thrust of institutional logic is to balance public interest with financial returns.

Institutional logic should be aligned with economic logic but need not be subordinate to it. For example, all companies require capital to carry out business activities and sustain themselves. However, at great companies profit is not the sole end; rather, it is a way of ensuring that returns will continue. The institutional view of the firm is thus no more idealized than is the profit-maximizing view. Well-­established practices, such as R&D and marketing, cannot be tied to profits in the short or long runs, yet analysts applaud them. If companies are to serve a purpose beyond their business portfolios, CEOs must expand their investments to include employee empowerment, emotional engagement, values-based leadership, and related societal contributions.

Business history provides numerous examples of industrialists who developed enduring corporations that also created social institutions. The Houghton family established Corning Glass and the town of Corning, New York, for instance. The Tata family established one of India’s leading conglomerates and the steel city of Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. That style of corporate responsibility for society fell out of fashion as economic logic and shareholder capitalism came to dominate assumptions about business and corporations became detached from particular places. In today’s global world, however, companies must think differently.

BY Rosabeth Moss Kanter


Develop Strategic Thinkers Throughout Your Organization

In study after study, strategic thinkers are found to be among the most highly effective leaders. And while there is an abundance of courses, books, articles and opinions on the process of strategic planning, the focus is typically on an isolated process that might happen once or twice per year. In contrast, a true strategic leader thinks and acts strategically every day.


9 Habits of People Who Build Extraordinary Relationships

  • Category EQ

By Jeff Haden.

Professional success is important to everyone, but still, success in business and in life means different things to different people--as well it should.

But one fact is universal: Real success, the kind that exists on multiple levels, is impossible without building great relationships. Real success is impossible unless you treat other people with kindness, regard, and respect.

After all, you can be a rich jerk... but you will also be a lonely jerk.