Managers, are you listening enough?

As the year draws to a close, many of us are taking stock of the year – what went well, what missed the mark, and ideally, what we might do differently in future.  As a people manager of almost two decades, I look more closely at how I did for my people than most other areas.  I also observe others around me to see what i could learn or what i could share with others.  Looking beyond the conventional peers and colleagues, reflecting on public figures, politicians, people in authority and even family members.

One of the most powerful differentiators I have observed in recent months is the difference between managers who listen, and managers who don’t listen.  I’ve witnessed British political party leaders shouting over each other, rather than working out solutions to Brexit, complacent business leaders who don’t see the real challenges faced by their teams, or self-absorbed managers who don’t realise that they should see themselves as part of the team, not above it. The net result is a disparate team, in-fighting within the same team, disengagement, drift and churn.

Good managers who listen ironically also get heard.  Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson get peoples’ attention beyond his companies, because he talks in a human way through listening to his people.  Teachers, doctors and nurse are all highly trusted, because they listen to those in their care. Great managers remember the old sales adage – you’ve got two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak!

Does this mean that you need to establish a personal relationship with your team to really listen to them and create a natural dialogue?  I believe this is driven my your personal style as a manager, and your ability to accommodate and adapt to the needs of your team.  If you’re a very private person, suddenly talking openly and asking about the personal lives of your people can come across as artificial, uncomfortable and forced.  Instead, when you listen, you show you respect your people, care for their wellbeing and take their needs seriously.  The more you listen, the easier it is to coach them from complaining about problems to telling you the solutions.  Whilst the personal connection is not necessary, a sense of informality to foster openness is really important.

Many might confuse not listening with poor management, and as all of us have a manager, it’s something we’ve all suffered.  Humility is a wonderful place to start (and of course, it’s the No. 1 trait of a good leader!)  Trying asking your people how well you listen, and whether they feel understood by you.  It’s always embarrassing to hear that not everyone will say yes (put your ego to one side!)  Next, ask them how you might together make things better.  It’s not hard, but it goes a long way to building a stronger manager relationship.

What is my learning this year?  Letting go of emotional debt, but I’ll share my on that in my next post!

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