What children can teach us about Authentic Leadership
Bedtime is my favourite time of the day. It’s when my son shares everything that has gone on in his day and what’s on his mind, with me. From homework to friends and everything in between. A few days ago though, the conversation moved in a different direction…
“Muuum, why is it that most parents and adults don’t take children seriously until loads of people do it or join in with the group?” my 10 year old son asked, out of the blue.
“What do you mean sweetheart” I replied.
“It’s just, that they think children exaggerate and perhaps sometimes they do but it’s because they want to impress them. There’s still meaning and truth in what they say, but the parents and adults don’t always believe them or just ignore them.”
I braced myself to ask the next question…
“Do you feel I ignore you or don’t believe you?”
“Sorry Mum, but sometimes you do…not always though” he was quick to add, so as not to hurt my feelings.
“I’m really sorry darling. I’m glad you’ve told me that and will make sure I listen more carefully next time. Tell me, why do think it’s so important for adults to listen to children?’’
And then, as if a champagne cork had just been popped, out came the explosive gem that inspired this week’s blog and melted my heart at the same time…
“You should always listen to your children! Just because they’re small doesn’t mean that they don’t have big hearts and minds and that they can’t make a lot of sense. There’s things we can teach you that you don’t know about, just like you teach me.”
So, aside from wanting to broadcast to the world how insanely proud I am of my son for his words of wisdom and reverse mentoring, it got me thinking about this his viewpoint on “listening” and whether the same applies to adults in the workplace.
How many times have you come across, or been in, the following situations at work?
A member of your team wanted to talk to you, but you were rushing out of the door to a meeting or for lunch?
A younger, older or less experienced colleague shared an idea, but you were quick to dismiss them?
Your direct report shared an alternative way to solve a problem, but you thought you knew better and shut them down?
A colleague shared with you that they were having a hard time, but you were distracted?
A Manager, who is known for liking the sound of their own voice was dominating the discussion, so you instantly zoned out or made a joke to make them feel small?
In any one of these situations, taking the time to “actively” listen could have been an opportunity to learn, innovate, collaborate and grow.
Behaviours in adults can sometimes be the same as in children. Just as the child exaggerates to impress an adult, so does an employee to impress their colleague.
But what do children do when they feel unheard…?
Yes, they speak louder and play up to get our attention and be heard or they shut down and retreat into themselves. The same can be true in the workplace and this may help us to understand how meetings can feel so unproductive or why communication breaks down.
We know that the key trait of “Authentic Leadership” is trust, but how can we expect to be fully trusted when we don’t fully listen?
And I don’t mean just listen to what it being said, but actually “hear” the message that the other person is trying to convey to us…
So how do we practice “active” listening and truly “hear”?
Embrace diversity – acknowledge that every single person is an individual and has something valuable to contribute regardless of their age, sex, gender, race, religion, experience, qualifications, position or tenure.
Hear – don’t just listen - if you don’t understand what’s being said, seek clarification rather than nodding and assuming.
Use positive body language – maintain eye contact, nod, smile and use hand gestures. Don’t fold your arms or tap your pen on the desk.
Ask questions – be genuinely interested and seek to fully understand what is being said and try to support. Use expressions such as “tell me more” or ask “have I understood that correctly?”
Be attentive – don’t get distracted by phones, emails or other people. Give your full and undivided attention.
Don’t judge – resist the temptation to jump to your own conclusions, or respond based upon your own thoughts, feelings and biases. Keep an open mind.
Don’t interrupt – allow the person to finish their sentence before asking questions, interjecting or worse, finishing their sentence for them.
Give feedback – let them know that you’re hearing and truly understanding what’s being said. Give positive statements if they’re excited about something, for example “that sounds exciting” or “I bet you can’t wait”.
Demonstrate empathy – try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes or to see things from their point of view. Imagine how they may be feeling or how you would feel in that situation.
Hear what’s “not” being said – probably the most difficult part of active listening is to recognise what’s not being said. Is their tone of voice or body language different from usual? Often times it’s not obvious, but if you know the person well enough, your “spider senses” will usually tell you that something’s not quite right.
We all have the ability to listen and as the saying famously goes.
“God gave us two ears and one mouth. We should listen and talk in equal proportion!”
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