09:39 AM

Authentic leaders listen, then act

By Mark Berven, President and Chief Operating Officer, Property & Casualty

On my journey to become a more authentic leader, one of the things I’ve discovered is that listening is critical. Listening to my leaders, our associates as well as our customers and partners allows me to hear from a broad spectrum of people — and I almost always learn something new.

There’s no additional cost to be a good listener and I believe it’s a great investment of my time. And, if you don’t agree with someone’s point of view after listening to them, you’re under no obligation to follow it. But if you aren’t willing to listen, the opportunities to learn are few and far between.

Perhaps the most famous listening leader, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, attributes much of his well-documented success to listening. From his meager beginnings as a high school dropout who got his start with a mail-order record business, Branson has founded more than 200 businesses and is estimated to be worth nearly $4 billion. He consistently talks about the value of listening and is often quoted as saying, “Listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.”

So listening is important. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

A study at the University of Minnesota found that two months after listening to a talk, the average listener will remember only about 25% of what was said. In fact, the study found that, after people learn something new, they tend to forget from one-half to one-third of it within as little as eight hours. If you think technology and social media were factors here, they were not. This study was completed in 1957.

Clearly, listening has been important for a long time. But there’s no question that retaining information has become more difficult recently as we ask our minds to do more things simultaneously.

So, what can we do?

Authentic leaders can listen for understanding and with a bias for action. By actively listening to understand — not just to respond — leaders can learn more than they ever could in isolation. Then, by taking decisive action quickly, leaders can put this new-found knowledge to work right away before it’s lost among the thousands of pieces of information our brains must take in each day.

Encourage your teams take advantage of active listening coupled with a bias for action and watch the speed and effectiveness of your organization take off.