Leading Well: Listening is Meditation

This post is inspired by a tweet from the legendary Tom Peters which deeply resonated with me.

I once had such a major disconnect with the Head of HR that I had to walk out of his room. And the disconnect was not that of ideas because I could not even start the discussion for which we were meeting. Every time I attempted to start, a text message on his cell phone or something on his computer screen distracted him. Not only that, he chose to respond to those distractions. I requested him to get through his preoccupations and then schedule a time to connect without any interruptions.

But this happens even when technology is not the culprit. You can feel the disconnect when someone pretends to hear you but not really listen.

The art of effective listening has a lot to do with the practice of meditation. Lets see how.

Meditation practice is known to make us calm by focusing all our attention and consciousness to a center within us. Meditation allows us to listen to our own thoughts, feelings and emotions resulting in clarity about the true nature of things. Meditation is about listening.

When communicating with the other, we need something similar – meditative listening if we can call it that way. Why can’t the other person in front of you be that center?

“Listening is Meditation. Clear your mind for the duration.”

Tom Peters (Tweet)

If we clear our mind of all other thoughts and distractions before we start the conversation, it becomes an engaging exchange. When the other person is your center, you are not just hearing what is said, you are also listening to the emotion behind the words, the unstated needs, what it really means and what the body language conveys. Hearing is the function of our mind and mind has a tendency to constantly rationalize. When mind is engaged in rationalization it cannot fully attend. Listening is the function of something more deeper – the heart or soul may be!

You can truly serve others when you know what others really need or value. And meditative listening is the only way to get to it.

It does not matter whether you are a leader or not. Next time someone (team member/peer/customer/your kid) walks up to you for a conversation, treat it is an opportunity. Turn off all your screens. Mute your gadgets. Silent your mind. Let go of the baggage of your preconceived  notions and assumptions. Make the other person your center. And then listen.

It helps you show your respect to the other person, encourage a meaningful exchange, become emotionally intelligent and aware.

Listening well is as much about meditation as meditation is about listening.

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Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

Excessive use of positional power: I was interacting with a leadership expert recently when he said, “If you have to use your position to exert your power, you are not powerful.” Being at a certain position within organization means that you have a higher visibility which needs to be extended to others. Your position is an opportunity; an obligation to make a difference in how your team performs. When you blatantly use positional power, you quickly isolate others. Disengaged team will, at the best, comply to your directives but will never be able to bring their complete creative potential on board.

Simply staying on top of information: Yes, you definitely need to know what is happening in your team. Getting status reports on various initiatives is important. However, when you excessively consume information given to you without acting on it, you fall in a trap. When team members provide you information on issues, risks and concerns, they need to be acted upon. Your are NOT in control when you know a lot of things, but when you act on it to make a positive difference. Sitting on top of information (and simply passing that information higher up in the hierarchy) is not a useful way to stay in control.

Keeping People Uninformed: The more people in your team know what your goals are, the more buy-in you will get – and hence better results. You cannot expect your team to perform if they are not informed about the vision, context, goals and progress. Team also needs your guidance on how something can be accomplished. They need you to validate their ideas. They need to know the purpose. Good leaders remain in control by clarifying the purpose relentlessly, then allowing people to execute, and provide support where needed.

Bottom line: Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.” If you are a leader at any level who aspires to be in control, focus not on yourself but on them – your people. Connect with them, help them understand, guide them in their performance, eliminate their roadblocks, give them the control and keep them informed; the results may surprise you!

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If you liked this post, you will also like bite-sized ideas on quality, leadership and people in my book #QUALITYtweet. Click here to check it out.

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Social Media and Leadership Success: A Few Parallels

When I first learned playing Guitar, I focused too much on notes, specifics and techniques. The more I practiced, the more I realized that notes, specifics and techniques are important for producing good music, but not sufficient.

So what was missing? The starting point of becoming a good artist is to have an emotion, an intent. Once you can touch the emotion and are intentional about it, tools and techniques are generally not difficult to master. Music played with technique may entertain us at the best but music played with emotion can move us.

In casual conversations, a lot of friends express a desire to start a blog. This desire is mostly fueled by success of others. They seek help in starting a blog, in creating a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. Here’s what I tell them:

The intent of connecting with others meaningfully is at the heart of social media (and leadership) success. With intent comes emotion which leads to difference. It is about liking people, interacting with them, learning from them and contributing back.

It is not about being like someone else, not about ability to use tools but about being your authentic and credible self. Once you are intentional and have right emotion to feel the content (be it music, writing, social media, programming, whatever), tools and techniques are easy to learn.

Unfortunately, most people do the inverse. They first focus on tricks and techniques and then search for emotional connect. Even before they start doing something, they want to measure their success. They end up spreading themselves thin on various social channels and often create noise.

Finally, like any other successful journeys, social media is a process and not a destination. Here again, intent and emotion fuels us through the road. I have seen companies hiring a social media marketing lead and expecting immediate business leads. It seldom happens.

Once you understand the four aspects below, you will do better, not only in social media but in other areas of life as well:

  • Be intentional. Develop an internal need to do something before attempting it.
  • Fuel it with emotion. Understand the impact of what you say and do. Be passionate.
  • In the beginning, don’t measure. Focus on contribution, not on results. Later, measure right things.
  • Enjoy the journey. Seek out new avenues. Connect meaningfully with others. Make a difference.

Join in the conversation: How do you use social media? What parallels can you draw that can help us in other areas of life and work?

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Note: This ideas in this post emerged while talking to Becky Robinson at Weaving Influence – as the name of her blog suggests, she uses social media to connect authors with online audiences, weave an influence and make a difference. Thanks Becky!

Connecting, Building Relationships and Team Success

Quality of relationships between the team members is one of the determinants of success as a team – be it project, process improvement initiative or an organization building one. Success of projects/initiatives is generally attributed to processes and rituals. Processes are crucial but not sufficient. It is people who work, co-operate with each other, demonstrate trust, work as a team, share a common goal, exercise their ‘discretionary effort’ and make things happen.

Leader’s role is very crucial here. Leaders can simply do transactional communication ("Do this form by end of tomorrow and lets review it then") or truly connect with their team members. Connecting skillfully with people means:

  • understanding them (and their value)
  • their aspirations
  • their communication preferences
  • what they bring to the table
  • building mutual trust
  • listening well to everyone
  • communicating your values
  • understanding complementary skills
  • how each one of them can play to their strengths
  • invest in their development

With this understanding, leaders have to weave a web of relationships amongst the team members by doing right communication and necessary team building activities. When team is connected, they understand and appreciate different roles and how each role impacts the success.

Success happens when the team members feel that they belong to a team, actively participate and work towards team’s success. In my experience, people forget the success of projects/initiatives on a long run, but they always remember the fun they had while executing the work. People cherish relationships they build while working.

So critical question today is – How are you leveraging relationships in your team / projects / initiatives?