"Listening" and Leadership...a tenacious, popular and essential relationship.

‘Listening’ is a wildly popular and tenacious term in business. When we listen, we are available to new ideas, accessible to others, self-aware and aware of what is happening around us. As such, ideas grow, conflicts are avoided, problem solving ensues, and all this paves the way for creativity and innovation. Regardless of how coveted - - - in truth, we do not listen well. In the performing arts, actors, musicians and other artists do listen well - - they are masters of being ‘present’ and I suggest the world of business has a good deal to learn from the world of the arts. Performers come to their ensembles with the question of "What could be?" prepared to explore possibilities. And often, business folks come with the question of "What should be!" prepared to defend their predetermined conclusions. So, what do you think? Ready to learn how to listen from a performing artist? What possibilities do you see?

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  • Mark Zorro

    Rochelle the senses cannot be reclaimed unless we have lost them, I think the answer to this question is in watching physically challenged people operate without a sense. We often have this sympathetic outlook when we see blind or deaf people, but that sympathy is a form of ignorance. It is an ignorance because we don't the time appreciate how they have adapted their other senses. It is just not sensory experience that is relevant, even if had no thumbs, life becomes extremely difficult but the appreciation of the human spirit is the ability to overcome challenges. I personally think it is an incredible feat to learn braille or sign language, or develop a heightened touch sense so that the world is seen through the fingers. I think these are amazing abilities and that sense of appreciation is what is missing. We have a habit of treating people as less rather than more and the answer to your question is in the phrase "use it or lose it" - but before application there must be appreciation, there must a mirror neuron kind of capability to say, those people who seemingly have less than us, have found ways to have more. I think it is simple and straight forward has that. Beauty is a luxury but love is a necessity, and in that regard, our first mission in life is to see through ignorance or deformity to the human being within - because if we can do that at visceral sensory level, then on the way to appreciating and applying our senses with new found vigour and blessing. This is not about pretending to be build because that is an insult, it is seriously learning from a human being a facet of skill they employ that you don't - and so it is all about seeing all people "as MORE" and not less......M.

  • Rochelle Mucha

    Steven...like with all changes in behavior, learning to listen and be present must be self directed. So you are right that coaches and other similar folks could be of service here. I think the real 'change' happens when individuals recognize what is 'lost' by not being present, listening with intention. When the losses such as conflict that could be avoided, missed opportunities because new ideas and challenges are stifled ...then leaders may take notice. In live theatre, the audience is the final piece of the puzzle, the player that till preview night is silent. Not only is the audience listening and interpreting, but the entire ensemble is waiting on the preview audience response. Did they laugh, cry, clap, etc. at the times intended. What is really cool here...is how the ensemble 'listens' to that feedback, and modifies the performance accordingly before opening night. So we can begin to see how 'listening with intention' causes a chain of iterative times of reflection, growth and change.

  • steven sonsino

    Stage actors often describe the audience as 'the final actor'. As audience members we immediately re-enact what's been played out in front of us but in our own heads. We merge our own interpretations and experiences with what's happened on stage. We bring our own emotional baggage to the story and make our own minds up as to what just happened, what was said.

    The audience's listening is more accurately described, then, as a process of 'sensemaking'.

    It seems to me that in business what happens is more often 'waiting for the other person to stop talking'. (That's how one manager described listening to me.)

    The skilled executives, coaches and counsellors who can coach and teach us how to listen honestly do the world a great service.

  • Rochelle Mucha

    Mark....your comment reminds me that most people associate beauty with the term aesthetic, but its root meaning, refers to the senses. In this context, Aesthetic Intelligence, means employing all our senses, the 5 plus the undeniable 6th, as felt experiences that lead to 'knowing'. This requires being truly 'present' - - self aware, accessible and available to scan, absorb and assimilate our experiences and shift our place of being and doing in real time. This kind of 'presence', key to 'listening' is in short supply, and is at minimum one place leaders can turn to the artist, and learn a great deal. As we have moved through the information and knowledge ages, and increased our dependency on technology for almost everything, I believe our senses have dulled and atrophied. It is time to reclaim the power of our senses. What do you think?

  • Rochelle Mucha

    In my experience...too many leaders are concerned with 'knowing' the answers, and fear that stating that, will harm their credibility with direct reports, peers and others. As you note...leaders, the most effective and authentic leaders will be armed with the best questions, questions to probe, and questions that lead to better resources.
    I think the lack of 'listening' is a root cause of most relationship breakdowns at work and play. I am not sure I am ready to say it is deliberate. Rather, I think it is a habit. We are in a habit of moving mindlessly. Working quickly. Self-centered on our own responses. We lack curiousity. So, the challenge to become fully engaged listeners, first resides in 'wanting' to change, and then taking the steps each day to practice and reflect, until we do. Would that work to reduce conficts, large and small. I think so.

  • Michael Fry

    There is also a cultural reference to this concept. I believe that it was Little Big Horn that said, "Do not judge me until you have walked a mile in my mocassins." The point being that we as a society a too quick to jump to conclusions based on individual experiences without regard to the experiences of others. Growth, both professionally and personally, can be extended through active listening and empathy. Aristotle did not become one of the most reknowned philosophers by offering his own answers... intead, he asked questions and listened for responses. Is this deliberate lack of listening the core of many of our societal problems today?

  • Mark Zorro

    Absolutely Rochelle absolutely - listening is absolutely a critical skill, more so for a visual person like me and a visual world that is more aligned to visual people - just because we can see much more doesn't mean we can see, not if we have diminished senses to touch, taste, smell or hear what it is we are seeing......M.