Why leaders must listen

June 17, 2019

 

An estimated 1 million people demonstrate in Hong Kong against an extradition law, over 2 million scientists, teachers and workers are on strike and participate in over 20 marches in Brazil in protest to cuts to research and education, hundreds of thousands women in Switzerland protest against inequality and in the UK a 3rd march to secure a people's vote is in preparation, the previous one involving between 700,000 and 1 million people. And that's only this week.

 

What do these marches have in common? First and foremost it seems they are born out of frustration that the leaders are not listening. Of course they are about disagreements and decisions but the large numbers seem to point out that these people are not even being listened to, they're being ignored because they are not the majority and even if they are, they don't count. 

 

A further reason seems to be that these people, as a result of not being listened to, feel isolated and nothing is more heartwarming than to feel you're not alone with your frustrations. The connection found in marches gives the demonstrators a safety they otherwise don't feel, an identity that is not being recognised otherwise.

 

Thirdly, if something is really important to you and you're not being listened to, it denies you a purpose, it denies you to aim for something important to you. And purpose, particularly for people willing to go on a march, is very important.

 

All three factors are down to leadership.  Leaders need to create that connectedness, establish a shared and meaningful purpose and have the intention to listen, the humility to accept other people's views and value and respect them. In so many cases formal leaders state their case, determine their course but don't listen.

 

It's fascinating that in the current leadership battle for the Conservative party, people are invited to ask the candidates a few questions, instead of these candidates asking the people questions. When studying group communication, Robert Bales found that while questions comprise only 6% of verbal interactions, they generate 60 percent of ensuing discussions. Could the discussions be so much more meaningful if the questions had been asked by the candidate leaders, certainly before they come to their policies and positions? 

 

Demonstrations indicate that there's a leader who's not listening to large groups of people. In organisations, people seldom go on strike or on a march, but their feelings will be the same if they don't feel listened to.  The impact may be not disruption in the streets, but possibly worse. In the simplest form they won't perform at their best possible level, or they will resign and leave. The impact on the culture of that organisation, on the work of others, is less visible but has at least as much impact. 

 

Where leaders listen, people connect and share a purpose and perform to the best of their ability. 

 

 

 

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