One of the most frustrating things about being a part of any organization is finding out about decisions that were made by people above you…that affect you…that you had no voice in.
Not cool man!
And, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
The reason we find situations like this so frustrating is because we feel like we aren’t being heard.
Being heard is important because it communicates value.
Also, as someone who makes decisions on a regular basis that affect the people under my care, I’ve come to learn that I don’t always know what I need to know in order to make the right decision.
Getting the information that I need requires that I take the time to listen to the people who will be affected by the decision.
Recently, our HR Director shared a quick training on how to listen well as a leader.
In light of how important this topic is, I thought I would share some of his ideas.
1. Regular One-On-Ones
As someone who oversees other staff, I’ve discovered how crucial it is to meet one-on-one with the people under my care on a weekly or at least bi-weekly basis.
These meetings are important for hearing about what is going on in their world – personally and professionally.
In order to make sure that your people feel heard, it is a good idea to ask questions like this on a regular basis:
Questions like these can help ensure that you and the leaders above you have the information you need to make decisions and they make sure that the people under your care feel heard and valued.
A simple action step here: if you don’t have regular one-on-ones scheduled with the people under your care…put these meetings on your calendar right away!
And, if you don’t manage stuff but do oversee a team of volunteers, consider setting up regular one-on-one meeting with your volunteers.
Obviously, once a week or even once every other week is probably unrealistic for volunteers. Therefore, maybe something like once a month or once a quarter would be more realistic…
2. Skip-Level Meetings
Another way to make sure you are listening to your staff is to set up skip-level meetings.
The idea here is to occasionally meet one-on-one with people two steps below your level in the organization.
If you are the senior pastor, this would mean skipping the executive pastor and meeting with the youth pastor or children’s director.
Or, if you are the executive pastor, this means skipping the youth pastor and meeting directly with a few small group leaders.
I may be using the wrong titles and levels for your organization, but I’m sure you get the idea.
Now, the purpose of these meetings is not to dig up dirt on the person you are skipping or provide a gripe session.
The purpose is to hear what it’s like to be them and to give them an opportunity to share with someone who normally doesn’t intentionally carve out time to meet with them.
My suggestion in this meeting is to ask the same exact questions as a one-on-one.
You might be wondering about how often you should set up skip-level meetings…In my opinion, these don’t need to happen nearly as often as one-on-ones.
I would suggest twice a year.
3. Mine For Conflict
Another great strategy for listening as a leader is to mine for conflict.
Here’s what I mean by this phrase.
There are times when someone makes an off-handed comment expressing frustration or disagreement.
Our typical response would be to shrug and say,
Weird. They must be having a bad day.
A wise leader will go mining for conflict.
Chase down that comment and pursue a conversation.
Something is clearly bothering you. Can I ask what you meant by your comment?
You aren’t looking to get the person in trouble, you are mining for the source of the frustration.
By doing this, you might just discover something very important that is frustrating more than one of the people under your care.
Another way to mine for conflict is in staff meetings.
This might sound a little scary but staff meetings should involve conflict and disagreement.
If they don’t, you are likely very boring! There should be some debate happening.
And so, when someone expresses an idea and you sense that someone else disagrees with the idea, your job as a leader is to mine for conflict.
Bill, it sounds like you disagree with this idea. I’d really like to hear what you’re thinking.
The idea here is to give your people permission to express their disagreement.
This is important for two reasons.
First, you’ll make better decisions!
Even the best leaders have blind spots and are partial to their own ideas. Giving permission to disagree will help you make better decisions.
Second, drawing out conflict gives people a voice which makes them feel valued.
The key is that you as the leader have to first mine for the conflict and then give permission for people to voice it.
This will take some work and patience because it is a process. People will initially feel nervous and possibly even threatened.
But, in my opinion, the process is worth it.
If there is one thing you can do to help the people under your care feel valued, it is listening.
Give them a voice by listening to them through regular one-on-ones, occasional skip-level meetings, and through mining for conflict.
I hope this has been helpful. We’d love to hear your ideas on listening.
Feel free to share an idea or a question in the comments below. Thanks for reading.