We work in fast-paced, changing organizations that have structures that are less and less…structured. To get work done, leaders have to be savvier than ever at knowing when, how and who to talk to. This requirement can be a heavy burden for a new leader, having entered the management ranks with a small network and communication skills that may or may not be ready for the task.
It’s true that both educational and professional training programs will emphasize the importance of communication skills for a successful career. We invest our time and dollars to hone the precious skills that enable us to get our point across with impact: presentation skills, writing skills, business case articulation. Missing from the list? Listening. Listening 101? I didn’t see that one in the course packet. No one did.
Fast forward to the first step of a management career and the newly promoted leader is armed and ready with her ability to advocate her position – make her case. She is optimistic that she will win over her stakeholders as she collaborates her way to the next promotion. But the case she presents falls flat; she gets mediocre (if any) response. Her problem? She didn’t stop to ask any questions - to listen and understand the others’ needs and position. To help new leaders work across boundaries effectively, we teach a balanced approach to stakeholder communication that includes both advocacy and inquiry:
To illustrate the gaps and impact, we give new leaders a stakeholder scenario and ask them to write an open response. We then assess their response based on the three steps above. Not surprisingly, very few leaders have any score in “making others thinking visible,” even after seeing the model above. We are so wired to advocate our own position that it requires practice and feedback to make listening a natural part of our collaboration work.
So which comes first: advocacy or inquiry? We’ll wait to offer our opinion while we listen to yours.
Karen Maxwell Powell is an affiliate at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.