Leaders, by definition, are responsible for getting things done. Unfortunately, the press of what must be done can easily crowd out our patience and understanding with people. When that happens, when we stop caring and start controlling, we risk the entire operation. That’s because leaders get things done through people, and if the people don’t feel cared for and respected by the leader it won’t be long until the work suffers as well. Feelings matter. With help from a book I just read on Strategic Listening for School Leaders, this Provision will bring that point home.
This past week I read the book, Strategic Listening for School Leaders by Jeannine Tate and Dennis Dunklee. Like most books on leadership in schools, including on our own on Evocative Coaching and Trust Matters, the wisdom in this book applies equally well in any leadership setting. As you read the following excerpts, what do you think they all have in common?
“In order to be an effective school leader, you must understand the concerns and interests of your constituents so that you can bring them together to accomplish the goals of the school. This means that you must listen carefully in order to make sense of your day-to-day life at work.” (p. 5)
“Quite often we assume that listening is simply a matter of focusing on the speaker. However, effective school leaders must sincerely want to listen and must have the patience and willingness to be of assistance to their faculty, staff, students, and parents. You need to listen respectfully and attend to the emotions, needs, and concerns of those who are trying to communicate with you. This, in a nutshell, is the essence of strategic listening.” (p. 5)
“Consider the teacher who comes into your office and is trying to explain how concerned she is about an impending parent conference. If you pick up a ringing phone, you are strongly communicating to the teacher that you are not seriously listening to what she has to say. At this point, you’re not listening strategically.” (p. 11)
“For years, communication experts have studied barriers to effective listening. These include evaluation, judging others from your own perspective, certainty, assuming that you know what is going on, superiority, deliberately not asking for advice and not facilitating teamwork because you are certain that you know far more than the people with whom you work, and control, curtailing opinions and demanding that people do things your way • or else.” (p. 22, adapted)
“Listening with your eyes can be crucial for a school leader, because what you see can have a tremendous impact on the significance of what you hear. Up to 55% of the meaning you derive from a message comes from facial cues. A person’s face reveals how he or she feels, and the person’s body reveals the intensity of the message. A strategic listener can learn a great deal by watching, because nonverbal communication is less well controlled then verbal communication..” (p. 29)
“What is considered strategic listening in one culture could be misunderstood or be considered inappropriate in another culture. We need to understand that, in our own culture, we have ways of speaking that color our assumptions and share the way we think. However, strategic listening can take place in any culture; people from nearly every culture appreciate listeners who demonstrate empathy and understanding in their interactions with others.” (p. 35)
“Effective leaders assume a different role each time they modify their behavior to achieve some desired goal, get someone to do something, persuade someone of something, or win trust or respect. Yet the roles you assume should never be viewed by others as an act. Your constituents must continue to perceive your actions as genuine rather than manipulative. The ability to assume different roles while maintaining integrity and to shift from role to role smoothly creates a powerful foundation for developing and maintaining an aggregate impression as a leader who is willing and able to be an effective listener.” (p. 76, adapted)
“It’s not easy to actively listen and demonstrate empathy all the time. Strategic listening is clearly a complex skill and can be exhausting, but it’s an important part of our job as effective leaders. Strategic listening shows that we care and that we understand the speaker. It allows speakers to accept us as listeners and invites them to tell their story and express, sometimes vent, their feelings. It fosters more meaningful, helpful interactions and strengthens others’ aggregate impression of us as effective leaders.” (p. 106)
Good advice for school leaders is good advice for all leaders. What’s the common thread? The gist comes through the verbs:
- Understand the concerns and interests of your constituents.
- Listen respectfully and attend to the emotions, needs, and concerns of those who are trying to communicate with you.
- Communicate consideration.
- Avoid evaluation, certainty, superiority, and control.
- Listen with your eyes; notice the body language.
- Demonstrate empathy and understanding in your interactions with others.
- Be genuinely willing and able to listen.
- Invite people to express, and sometimes vent, their feelings.
- Listen actively and demonstrate empathy all the time.
In other words, feelings matter. That’s the common thread. If we want to get things done as leaders then we have to be considerate of people’s feelings. That’s the doing-being dynamic of leadership. People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.
Great leaders listen for feelings and needs. The two are always intertwined, because needs generate feelings. When needs are being met, we feel good. When needs are not being met, we feel bad. When you listen for feelings you will inevitably meet needs.
Notice, as Robert Gonzales teaches, that the concept of “meeting needs” can be understood in at least two senses. On the one hand, we meet needs when we satisfy them. That is the normal sense of the word. When I need nutrition and I feel hungry, I meet that need by eating food.
But there is another, and perhaps a more important, sense of “meeting needs.” We also meet needs when we get to know them more fully. The analogy is to meeting a human being. First we get introduced and then we get connected, through shared stories and experiences. When that sharing is respectful and appreciative, we feel good about that meeting. Otherwise, we feel bad.
The same goes for all our needs. I remember losing 65 pounds back in 1998. When I felt hungry, I did not always meet that need by eating food. There were other needs, like health and well-being, that were more important. So I would have a conversation with myself to meet those needs more fully. “This is what it feels like to lose weight,” I would say, and I would be happy.
That’s what happens when we “listen respectfully and attend to the emotions, needs, and concerns of those who are trying to communicate with us.” Even if we disagree on what should be done (the doing side of the leadership dynamic) we agree on how well we were treated (the being side of the leadership dynamic). Even if we fail to satisfy every need, which is usually the case, we can at least acknowledge every need with caring and mutual understanding.
Striving to live from that framework, in every moment of every day, both at work and at home, is the mark of great leaders. Most of us miss that mark more often than we would like, but it’s never too late to pick up the pieces and to start again from this moment forward.
Coaching Inquiries: How respectful are you of the feelings and needs of others? What would people say if you asked them? What helps you to become more attentive and understanding? What frameworks would you like to adopt? What practices would you like to invoke? Who could become your partner on the journey?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I am really enjoying your book on coaching in schools. It is so comprehensive and thorough that I think I’m going to have to read it twice. Maybe three times! Thanks for all your good work.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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