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By George W. Mantor

RISMEDIA, Sept. 12, 2008-Humorist, Mark Twain, left us a great legacy of life lessons and very funny stories. I laugh out loud. In a short essay entitled “Luck,” Twain tells the tail of a nit-wit army officer who rises through the ranks and achieves great honor by always making the worst possible choice in any dangerous situation. He is a complete fool; but, by extraordinary good fortune, bone-headed blunders always result in victory.

But, that’s fiction, and in real life, bad decisions often have consequences. Anyone in a position of leadership has a responsibility to make good choices on behalf of those who rely on the leader. In any endeavor, leaders must have a sense of urgency about achieving results; but the very qualities necessary to a good leader, such as confidence and experience, can isolate a leader from valuable information vital to optimum success. More bluntly, some are know-it-alls.

And, that can be dangerous. I read a story a couple of years ago about a preacher who was electrocuted standing in the baptistery in waist deep water holding a microphone. I cannot imagine that, in the entire congregation, there wasn’t a single person who understood the negative effects of introducing electricity into a pool of water; but, if they did, they didn’t mention it.

If you are a leader, you already have a pretty good idea what to do and how to do it. But, a leader needs one thing more–a leader needs to grow faster than those they lead. Leadership is more than fulfilling the functions of the job-it is about taking everyone to the next level. The key to that isn’t within the leader, it is in the personalities of those being lead. It isn’t something that can be wrung out of subordinates, but it can be coaxed out of co-workers.

Here are six thoughts for leaders wanting to make sure they are actively listening.

1. Improve two-way communication. “Why doesn’t anyone ever ask us?” is a common lament among subordinates and a very good question. Too frequently, leaders assume they know what is best without getting any feedback from the front lines. Communication, to the extent that there is much, tends to be initiated by leadership and is largely one-way. There may even be an implied warning about a potential response or an existing reluctance among subordinates to provide feedback. Few people are willing to point out that “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”

2. Create a listening culture. Saying that we have a safe and open culture that encourages communication and actually implementing such a culture are two different things. In most organizations, the messenger is routinely shot. Using labels such as “whiner,” mal content, or non-team player to describe those who step forward to address difficult topics has a chilling effect. We would not have “Whistleblower” laws if there wasn’t a very human tendency to want to retaliate against the bearer of bad news.

3. Embrace the idea that there is no bad news. Get out of judgment about the information or the way it is presented and be happy to have it. Whether you like the message or not, all information is neutral; it is our response which colors it. All information has value.

4. Actively solicit feedback. Develop a mechanism that allows for anonymous feedback and another that actually rewards ideas, tips, complaints, suggestions, and news. Just as most leaders evaluate and rate the performance of subordinates, there should be an opportunity for subordinates to rate leaders. I knew you’d love that one.

5. Ask lots of questions. Develop four or five routine questions, relative to the subordinate’s situation, to stimulate conversation.

6. Be there. Face to face is the gold standard of listening. The telephone doesn’t allow for eye contact or body language and cell phones still routinely drop calls. And, it’s starting to seem to me like almost everyone’s e-mail, including mine, feels angry.

Sit down, unhurried and uninterrupted, where you can be eyeball to eyeball.
No pagers, no cell phones, no texting, no “blueberries;” if you have the luxury of a face to face meeting, with anyone, don’t waste it. This applies to group meetings as well.

Back in the day, subordinates could be fired, shot, or cut from the team if they didn’t like the way things were being run. Now, leadership exists because subordinates get their needs met by following their leaders. Among those needs is a strong desire to have their thoughts considered as decisions are being made.

The most effective leaders are those who lead the willing.

Are you listening?

George W. Mantor is known as “The Real Estate Professor” for his wealth building formula, Lx2+(U²)xTFP=$? and consumer education efforts. During a career that has spanned more than three decades, he has amassed experience in new home and resale residential real estate, resort marketing, and commercial and investment property. He is currently the founder and president of The Associates Financial Group, a real estate consulting firm. Prior to launching his own firm in 1992, he had been Director of Training and Customer Service for Great Western Real Estate. In addition, he has served on virtually every real estate committee, including a term as a Director of the California Association of REALTORS. He is the creator of the Personal Best System, a business and life planning process, and the Red Zone Time Planning System for Business Professionals.

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