Effective Leaders Pause to Listen

The essence of servant leadership is to meet the needs of your organization and your people.

But arrogance creeps in when you assume you’ve got it figured out. Because you’re the leader. You ought to know.

Peter Block calls this type of arrogance a paternalistic view of leadership. Block describes this dynamic as “taking care of people who don’t know better,” which is in direct contrast to servant leadership. Servant leadership is a true commitment to learning what the organization and the employees need.

What others need; not what I think they need.

Multipliers author Liz Wiseman refers to leaders who accidently diminish talent as Diminishers. Wiseman refers to this specific arrogant diminishing behavior as The Rescuer, one who believes their role is to step in and ensure people are successful and protect reputations.

Conversely, a Multiplier knows they need to ask better questions and seek the genius in others.

When I was a band teacher, my enthusiasm and affirmation of individuals worked well when it came to motivating students, building community, and work ethic. Other times, though, it backfired, especially with “the perfectionist” type of kid. (In DiSC lingo, a strongly inclined C.)

“What these students need,” I told myself, “is to grow up and let go of this silly perfectionism. As their champion teacher and partner in learning, I have to fix them by getting them to let go of their uptight obsession with being right. Then they will be happier and more relaxed individuals.”

So, when a student, Erin, objected to improvising the bongo part at a moment’s notice, I begged her to “ just relax and wing it! It’ll be fine!” I thought I was helping. But my affirmation and enthusiasm were the last things she needed; instead, she needed explicit and clear guidelines, preferably written and provided well in advance.

What to do?

  1. Ask, “What don’t I know I don’t know?”
  2. Pause.
  3. Wait.
  4. Listen.

Jack Welch, in his book Winning, says, “Obviously, some people have better ideas than others; some people are smarter or more experienced or more creative. But everyone should be heard and respected. They want it and you need it.”

Listen more. Talk less. Pause. Learn. Get better together. This is a persistent and credible leadership theme that cuts across all disciplines and outlooks.

“Every [one] I meet is in some way, my superior.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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