I recently read a quote by Pastor Andy Stanley of North Pointe Ministries in Georgia. He said: “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say”.
That made me think about something that happened this month. A leader I work with asked me to listen to a webinar presented by a young inexperienced new hire and provide candid feedback.
In short, this is what I said:
It’s often difficult to have technical person communicate complex information in a way that is engaging and interesting as this is not their expertise and takes practice. Like many she read the script word for word and plowed through the slides without providing context, so she was difficult to follow. She needs to learn how to project a bit more, sound more engaged and pause so she sounds like she’s conversing and not reading. The best way you can help her is to have her practice with the script to internalize the information, then have her do it without the script or with just a few bullet points and record her so she can hear the difference. The more she does it, the more confident she will become.
His response surprised me. He said he thought she did a great job and “delivering the presentation in an engaging and interesting manner” was not the priority as long as she communicated in a factual way. He defensively disagreed with my feedback and told me her presentation was very well received. A little confused, I asked him what it was he wanted from me that perhaps I didn’t provide or if he just wanted me to agree with him. He didn’t respond.
When leaders ask for feedback but don’t seem to really want it, they can come across as insincere. Sometimes, they ask for feedback so they can appear open and approachable to their team or subordinates. Others may be seeking validation rather than genuinely wanting to improve or make changes, which I suspect was the issue here. In other situations, I’ve observed leaders request feedback as a formality to check the box without any intention of using constructive criticism to drive change.
To ask for feedback without a genuine commitment to listening, learning, and driving change can have negative consequences across entire organizations. Reducing employee engagement, eroding trust and dampening morale are just a few. Becoming a leader who genuinely listens to others and encourages open communication is crucial to fostering a healthy and productive work environment. Here are a few things you can do to become that type of leader.
- Make others feel safe. Let people know their opinions and ideas are welcome without negative consequences.
- Listen more. Talk less. When someone is speaking, avoid interrupting and disagreeing. If you do disagree, make them feel heard by asking open ended questions such as “why do you think that” or ‘how will what you’re suggesting help us improve”?
- Be approachable. I used to have a boss who said his door was always open. The truth is it was only open to a select few, which made many of us feel that he was not interested in our thoughts or concerns.
- Be empathetic. If you want to build rapport and connect with your team members, then try to sit in their seats to better understand their viewpoints.
- Dump the defense. When you receive feedback or hear opinions that challenge your beliefs, try to be objective and use the feedback as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Not wanting to burn any bridges, I emailed the leader who didn’t respond to my question regarding if there was something he wanted me to provide that I didn’t. I said:
“I’m not trying to give you a hard time. You asked for candid feedback and I provided it. I’m not expecting her to become an amazing presenter overnight. I do believe if you help her with the things I pointed out, over time she will become more confident and commanding.”
He responded that his own observations would be helpful in coaching her to present technical information.
As Pastor Stanley said, “leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say”.
I have nothing more to say to this leader because he is clearly not interested in anyone’s voice but his own. I hope his employees feel differently.