Yesterday, I stood up in front of my company on a Monday morning to tell them about the Marketing Academy and what I’d learned. It’s a pretty tough gig, the Monday meeting. Some people would rather be trawling through the emails. Most people would rather still be in bed. Everyone is a little bit sad that it’s not the weekend any more. Trust me, we’re a very enthusiastic bunch on the whole, but the 9am Monday meeting doesn’t show us in our best light.
All the more credit then to the Marketing Academy and the incredible people that make it happen that the response I got was extraordinary. My inbox was flooded with messages from people who wanted to know more. I had to hold another meeting to field questions. Then I had to hold three more, just to fit them all in.
The consensus was always the same – “it sounds brilliant”. And it is, utterly and completely brilliant. Which leaves me, sitting down to write a blog about it, with a challenge. How do you bottle that magic? How can you distill all that into a few paragraphs? All the training, which changed my mindset. All the mentors who inspired me to push myself harder than I’d pushed myself before. All the other scholars, a fantastic network of brainboxes. And my amazing business coach, Adrienne Candy, who devotes so much time and skill to helping me make sense of it all.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to write about it all. You can wake yourself up and keep reading.
I just want to focus on one of the lessons I’ve learned about what it takes to be a good leader. It was the first lesson I learned. It’s the lesson I still struggle to live by every day. If it was the only thing I learned on the Academy (it’s not) then it would still have made the whole experience worthwhile. For me, it’s the foundation of good leadership.
That is, to listen.
I bet you think you’re a good listener. Most people do. I certainly did. But I wasn’t, not at all. I interrupted people all the time. I paid attention to them with half a brain, while the other half wondered what I was going to say next. I went to meetings with my own agenda, and I wasn’t always flexible about having that opinion changed.
It’s actually quite hard to listen to someone actively, with absolute commitment. But it’s entirely necessary if you want to foster collaboration in your team, facilitate strong performance and spark brilliant ideas.
In the spirit of sharing, here are some of the techniques I find useful. Next time you are in a meeting, try:
1) Closing your laptop and forgetting that item on your to-do list which has been niggling at you for the past hour. Give your total focus.
2) Allowing double the time for the meeting than you would ordinarily allow.
3) Ask lots of questions. Not the kind of questions designed to lead the discussion to your own agenda. The kind of questions which encourage the speaker to interrogate and develop his own idea further.
4) Summarize what people have said. It lets them know that you’ve understood what they wanted to get across.
5) Build on what they’ve said. Collaborative thinking is about letting different perspectives get to one corker of an idea.
My business coach, Adrienne, taught me what it felt like to be listened to by someone who is very good at it. It feels amazing. It’s like you’ve been speaking a different language to the rest of the world, and finally someone comes along who has taken the time to learn it too.
In practical terms, I have less meetings than I used to have, and the ones I do have are longer. I want to make sure I take the time to develop our new concepts with the whole team, and that needs commitment. The sessions may take longer, but they are doubly effective. All the best projects I have managed this year have been a true group effort, and better for it.
And it’s helped me get the most out of the Academy too. Listening and learning is essential to my experience. Recently, some of my mentors have kindly offered to spend time with me after the Academy too, and I truly believe that that’s because I listen and engage with them in a much more genuine way than I did at the beginning. The more mentoring sessions I go to, the more I get out of them. The more I listen, the more I get back.