Surfacing elephants and new ideas


There are many leaders who talk too much. They can suck the life out of a room by shutting out other voices that need to be heard. Any wisdom those other voices have may be lost in the plethora of words that gush out of the leader’s mouth.

I’ve also known leaders who are quiet and need to be heard. They may have wisdom to share, but can’t get a word into the raucous cacophony going on around them. So they may withhold their voices, much to the detriment of their organizations.

There is withheld wisdom in both scenarios, and it is a reality in our organizations that some leaders aren’t listening and others need to be heard. The net result is that organizations can’t reap all of the available potential from their leaders. There is so much to be heard that isn’t, leaving our organizations malnourished.

When loud leaders and quiet leaders learn to moderate their natural tendencies, modelling and setting expectations that others do the same, the organization can bathe in the grandness of a collective wisdom that has been kept dormant.

Can you imagine what might happen when that occurs? It’s a compelling vision of fully functional companies that actually listen and hear what’s being said. Creativity is no longer an issue. Collaboration rides on the coattails of this imagined company ripe with rich, deep listening and all wise voices being heard – with bottom line results.

The skills to be able to listen and be heard are learnable. Whether you are a loud leader or a quiet leader, what if……

You listened more: Take the stance that you aren’t the keeper of all knowledge. You have learned that others just might have something important to say. Silence in conversations is embraced as your friend because it shows that people are thinking and allows dormant voices to come forth. You are listening to understand what others bring to a conversation instead of allowing your brain to chatter along, making judgments and assumptions. Notice the wisdom that is appearing now!

You are intentional about using your voice: You are as strategic about your words as you are about achieving organizational results. It takes hard work, but you know when to speak and when to listen and how to find your way into a conversation. This strategic use of your voice is THE most important leadership skill, foundational to your success and that of your organization. You’ve noticed that your clarity and influence is magnifying within the organization. Heads turn to hear what you have to say. You are making an impact!

Listening and being heard are modelled, learned, encouraged and required: You’ve learned to model deep listening and you speak up only when it’s essential. You make it clear that you expect others in your organization to be intentional about listening and being heard; you’ve held employees responsible for doing so. You now observe the growth in your organization, including bottom-line effects!

We spend billions on training employees in our organizations to work together, to “be creative”, and to lead others when better listening and assuring all wisdom is heard can solve a lot of the issues. When we listen better and find our voice, deep conversations begin to happen, surfacing elephants and new ideas. Imagine the possibilities.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “Surfacing elephants and new ideas

  1. Great topic, Mary Jo. Knowing when to speak and when to listen are such incredible skills. It’s so refreshing to see exceptional leaders use this skill properly. You can’t make any wise decisions that are thought through without being able to listen, and you can’t be very productive when you don’t speak. It’s the core of everything we do when we work together.

    I have often wondered how I can teach this to my associates. I wait for them to finish speaking, and then I ask if I can be heard on the subject. It usually works. My leadership tendencies are more quiet and reserved, but I have been making myself heard to be a better leader. I think people expect you to be one way by your past behaviors, so it may take time to adjust and reach that happy-medium of speaking and listening. Thank you for the insight!

  2. Hi Brandon. It’s great that you notice the need to be looking outward and to consider if you are listening and being heard in the way that you wish. Leadership is so dynamic, with a constant requirement to assure that the influence we want to have is actually happening, and that can only occur through self observation or feedback from others.

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