A mentor of mine from my sales days used to say to me, “O’Day, you’ve two ears and one mouth, use them in that ratio.” There was no better advice then, and it’s just as applicable for leaders today as it was 30 years ago when proffered to an ambitious young sales rep.
On the topic of listening, I recently had the pleasure of hearing John Stackhouse, Sr. Vice President of RBC speak. He recounted a conversation that he once had with Dominic Barton, past Managing Director of McKinsey, and present Ambassador to China. Barton explained that he can instantly tell who the Canadians are when he walks into a board room, anywhere in the world, “they ask good questions, and they listen to the answers.” That comment, “they listen to the answers”, and by extension, seek to understand, struck me as a key underpinning of empathy; listen intently, seek to understand, and empathy is the outcome.
As a management consultant and coach, I spend the bulk of my time on the phone (or now a virtual platform of some sort) speaking with senior leaders, listening, and asking, listening-asking, listen-ask, (insert slide deck ?), listen-ask. Recently, a dominant theme has begun to emerge: exhaustion. At all levels, we are exhausted. Exhausted with Zoom, wearing masks (not remembering where our masks are), the kitchen island (that’s simultaneously an office), exhausted with bankers, pets, family, our earbuds, supply chain issues, owners, year-end reviews, reworking strategy etc.
It’s been a long year and every leader I speak to is looking forward to a well-earned break over the holidays (as unique as they will be) even more than years past. But before we leave the office, we as leaders need to recognize that the individuals we lead are experiencing the same exhaustion, and possibly more.
If you want to start 2021 off on a powerful note, revisit that sage advice of a sales manager from 30 years ago, “…you’ve two ears and one mouth, use them in that ratio”. Before sending your team off for the holidays, spend some time listening to them, individually. Don’t solve, brainstorm, or tell them you understand. Just listen. Maybe ask a good question, then listen some more. If listening is the intent, empathy will be the outcome. If one of the last things they remember about this year is how their leader paid attention, the platform is set for the well-documented benefits: higher engagement, higher loyalty, higher productivity, and better collaboration to flow in 2021.
Then go home and settle in for a long winter’s nap.
Happy Holidays you’ve earned it!
Published by Dan O’Day