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NEW Leadership Academy: Lead by listening

“Great teamwork is impossible without great listening,” Kate Nau, senior vice president, finance and corporate treasurer at The Schwan Food Company, told more than 250 online NEW Leadership Academy attendees, Oct. 6, 2016.

Nau joined Jewel Hunt, group vice president of corporate bakery for The Albertsons Companies, for "Listening Like a Leader," sharing keys to effective listening, being present with others and letting others feel fully heard. Jo Miller, CEO of Women's Leadership Coaching, moderated the discussion.

"Getting complete feedback — from top to bottom — helps you build a more cohesive plan," Hunt said.

"Leaders who don't listen are stating they have all the answers," Miller counseled.

The act of "listening" is not always understood, the executives agreed. "Find out what's important to your audience," Hunt advised, "and check for understanding."

"Quality listening is different from constant affirmation," Nau explained, adding "the best way to show that you care about your team or your partners is by listening. 

"It's never too late to admit to someone that you could have listened better. Ask them for help."

In the present

Essentials to being a good listener to individuals or in a group include:

  • Putting the smartphone down
  • Avoiding side conversations
  • Sharing, having others share and finding common areas
  • Remembering everyone matters

"Be brave," Nau urged listeners. "Tell people when you're not sure they're listening, and how it makes you feel."

Hunt offered this advice to those who feel their leaders may not be listening: "Engage. Ask questions."

Being yourself, as a speaker and a listener, serves the greater good. "Diversity of thought and style helps us learn better," Hunt said. "Leaders need to be genuine and authentic."

Being right is not the same as winning, Nau said. "Try, 'Help me understand why you're taking this position' — draw out the driver of the disagreement."

"Make improving listening skills a key part of your coaching conversations with subordinates," Nau recommended.

"Not every idea is a winning idea," Hunt reminded listeners. "Fail fast, move on, innovate continually, and you will find the leader in yourself and others."