Monday, June 23, 2008

Visionary Leadership and the Critical Skill of Listening

Recently Philanthropy Journal issued a Special Report on professional development for nonprofits and covered three topics:

Fundraising: Basics, training and mentoring
Leadership: The art of listening and explaining
Management: Understanding the nuts and bolts
Philanthropy Journal Professional Development Article

The report inspired me to write about Leadership and Listening. Gene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University is quoted “Leading is not just having a vision and pulling people in a certain direction. It involves a lot of listening, as well as explaining….. When people articulate a vision and it works, it's because it resonates with those who hear it. That means you've listened carefully to a lot of people and they see themselves in there."

These comments dovetail well with my favorite author on leadership and nonprofits, Burt Nanus, who said that “Good leaders are good askers as well as great listeners." In ”Leaders Who Make a Difference” he discusses the importance of shared vision and says: “The right vision will reflect the distinctive character and culture of the organization and will leverage its history and network of connections.”

I firmly believe that listening skills are essential for a visionary leader and critical for weaving the right tone into a shared vision. It isn’t always evident that a visionary leader has great listening skills because listening skills are “quiet” and don’t jump out at us like being a good speaker does.

Here are a couple of exercises that can help develop listening skills:

1. Don’t multitask when listening. I know that this is hard to do and I am personally a serious multi-tasker. But I do know that if I am checking email when on a conference call I am not listening at the level I should be.

2. Acknowledge the person speaking to you with a nod of a head or “I see.” You can also summarize your understanding of what has been said.

3. Ask clarifying questions.

4. Don’t feel that you have to fill up a momentary silence when someone pauses to think for a moment.

These cues signal that you are listening and interested will encourage the speaker and help you stay “tuned in.”
Marion Conway Consulting

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