The Journey: Leader's Listen

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch would ask people at meetings and speaking events "How'm I doing?" You can bet that a crowd of New Yorkers would not be shy in their responses. They would let him know exactly what they thought, even if it wasn't what...


Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch would ask people at meetings and speaking events "How'm I doing?" You can bet that a crowd of New Yorkers would not be shy in their responses. They would let him know exactly what they thought, even if it wasn't what he wanted to hear. By asking the question and then listening to the response, it gave people the feeling that their voice could be heard. This honest criticism of his performance must have worked -- he served three terms as mayor.

Could you walk into your firehouse and ask the same question? Do you really want your people to tell you how they think you are doing? If you are the type to shoot the messenger, they may tell you what you want to hear. If you are the type of king that wants to know if he has no clothes, you may get an honest response. I bring this up because those who surround themselves with "yes men" are not getting a true picture of their performance. I have always felt that I can't fix it if I don't know it's broke. That goes both for the organization and myself personally.

If you want honest feed back then you must be ready, willing and able to accept it. This also means acting on it. This does not create an opportunity to cast blame on others or make excuses. You asked, we told you, now fix it! If you are an officer you can make changes in your organization. The higher you are in rank, the greater your ability to effect changes if you are ready to listen. There is nothing worse than watching a once great department go down hill just because the leadership lost the ability to take a critical look at itself. If not treated early, a small sore can feaster and become a cancer, spreading through the organization and eventually leading to its death.

Listening to the feedback from others may allow you to do your own personal "reality check." Get your own personal "how'm I doing." Don't bury your head in the sand. If you ask for advise and respect the person who is giving it, they are telling you for your own good. This could be done in private with one of your trusted advisors until you get comfortable accepting criticism, if any of us ever do. Don't assume that no one is complaining just because you don't hear the complaints.

Listen closely to what you say and how you say it. The tone and volume of the messages carry as much impact as the words. Did your reply to a question sound condescending or sarcastic? If you were screaming when you said it, then all the energy was probably wasted because you were just "tuned out."

Developing interpersonal skills is a key to leadership. But, at its most basic is the rule "to treat others the way you would like to be treated."

Everyone sees things differently. But every organization has the person who is like the barometer for the company. They can tell when the storms are building and they can forecast clear weather and smooth sailing. Most of the time, he is not the guy who screams the loudest. They are usually the ones pushing the two fronts together and creating the disturbance in the atmosphere. The barometer is usually the guy who is the quietest. He sits and watches and knows when to bring the umbrella! Some may say this example is very accurate because we can't change the weather. We may not be able to change the weather but we can change the climate in our organization. Find the barometer and ask them for the forecast.

Brokerage firm E.F. Hutton had a successful advertising campaign years ago. They captured the thought that you need to listen to the people who know what's going on. It implied that Hutton had his finger on the pulse of the market and how he could reasonably predict trends in the market. It said, "When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen."

I figured out who was the barometer and I have had the pleasure of having persons like E.F. Hutton in my inner circle. When they spoke I listened and I have always valued their opinion. I didn't always agree, but I always listened.

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