Leadership For The Future


Listen and Learn

In this newsletter I return to Nancy Kline’s book “Time to Think”.  She claims that “everything we do depends on the thinking we do first” and “our thinking depends on our attention to each other”.

I believe she is right and this time I want to pick up her second point that “our thinking depends on our attention to each other”.  She says that “attention – the act of listening with palatable respect and fascination is key to the Thinking Environment”.  [1]

We think we listen, but we don’t.  We finish each other’s sentences; we interrupt each other, fill in the pauses with our own opinions, give advice and come in too soon with our own ideas.  In our haste to present our views and say what’s on our minds we sometimes miss what others might have contributed had we listened and asked questions to help our understanding.  These could be questions such as “What do you really think about this new idea?” “How might we make it a better one?”

I suspect that the more senior you are in an organisation the more important it is to listen.   Peers and staff are less likely to proffer their thoughts and ideas if they think their views will be disregarded by a more senior person in the organisation.

Kline claims that the times when she has just listened with no intervention at all have resulted in the best outcomes.  She cites the example of a woman trying to decide the next step in developing her herb garden project and opening it to the public.   Kline says that she said nothing apart from a few “hmms” and at the end of the conversation the woman thanked her enthusiastically because she’d been so helpful!

So the challenge this year, certainly for myself, is to become a more attentive listener, particularly for the more strategic and difficult issues, but also to listen to those who are prepared to question you with a “but what about . . .?” rather than “oh yes, what a good idea . ..”   What will be the challenge for you in this regard?


[1] Nancy Kline advocates ten components to creating a thinking environment;  attention, incisive questions, equality, appreciation, ease, encouragement, feelings, information, place and diversity (See Leadership for the Future – February 2012)