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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Dr. Deming on Joy of Work, Innovation and Leadership

Having worked in Quality management role for a long time, I could not have afforded to miss insights from Dr. W. Edwards Deming whose thinking was way ahead of time. Dr. Deming is remembered for transforming Japan into a formidable business competitor through his management and leadership practices, especially Deming’s 14 principles.

In 1994, at the age of 92, Dr. Deming gave his last interview to IndustryWeek magazine which I read with great interest.

In part 1 of his interview, Deming says,

The source of innovation is freedom. All we have—new knowledge, invention—comes from freedom. Somebody responsible only to himself has the heaviest responsibility.

3M is a 100 years old company that thrives on innovation. 3M’s William McKnight first instituted a policy known as 15% rule – that engineers can use 15% of their time on whatever projects or initiatives they like. Later, Google also had a similar policy. McKnight used to tell his managers,

“If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.”

This is even more crucial when an organization grows and if you want good people, you cannot manage them traditionally. They would want to do things in their own way. Providing a conducive space for performance is one of the primary responsibilities of a leader.

In the same interview, Dr. Deming also touched upon a topic businesses are still struggling with – how can leaders enable joy at work? He suggested,

The alternative is joy on the job. To have it, people must understand what their jobs are, how their work fits in, how they could contribute. Why am I doing this? Whom do I depend on? Who depends on me? Very few people have the privilege to understand those things. Management does not tell them. The boss does not tell them. He does not know what his job is. How could he know? When people understand what their jobs are, then they may take joy in their work. Otherwise, I think they cannot.

If we keep all the glorification of leaders aside, the two fundamental tasks of a leader are to get great talent (good people who care) and then help them succeed by providing clarity, reiterating the vision, mentoring and serving to their needs with a focus on achieving business outcomes.

After reading insights by Deming in this interview, I was only wondering about the depth of Dr. Deming’s passion about better business and better leadership that kept him engaged even at 93!

I am glad I stumbled upon this interview.

Better Leadership in 2015 (And Beyond): 9 Essentials

Year 2015 is knocking the door. A few hours later, fireworks in the sky will mark the beginning of another new year. Last few days of a year often pulls us into a retrospective mood and we tend to look back and look forward at the same time. As I write this, I am thinking about leadership.

Our world of work is constantly changing at a rate that is almost unnerving. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) best describes the times we live in. People’s expectations from their leaders are increasing all the time. Generational shifts at workplace combined with business model disruptions is only adding to the woes of being a leader in the current times.

But the same challenges are also opportunities to practice better leadership provided we understand what it takes to succeed as a leader in 2015 (and beyond).

Here are 9 key thoughts on leading in 2015 and beyond:

  1. Leaders need to understand the new definition of power. It is not in titles or how large an office they occupy or where they stand in the pecking order of hierarchy. In this world of work, a leader derives power by engaging others, collaborating with them, build a positive influence and build an environment where people can thrive.
  2. Stability is a myth. As a leader, if you are not making forward progress, you are already moving backwards. Leaders have to maintain constant positive momentum towards achieving the vision and goals of the team. Constant improvement (and innovation) in products and processes is one of the ways to maintain positive momentum.
  3. Communication, collaboration, creativity and commitment are 4C’s that empower leaders in this world of work.
  4. In a complex environment, a leader’s ability to introduce and manage changes is as important as responding effectively to external changes. Leaders have to be creators of change too.
  5. Leaders need to stop trying to motivate people. This may sound counter-intuitive but intrinsic motivation, the one that lasts, cannot be generated externally. Creating an environment and system where intrinsic motivation is more likely to happen is the primary expectation from a leader.
  6. People need two things: purpose and meaning. A leader’s primary (and ongoing) challenge is to clarify the purpose and outline the meaning of work that people do. This is one of the key drivers of engagement that requires a lot of communication and context setting by the leader.
  7. For leaders, constant and self-initiated learning is not optional anymore. Constant learning equips leaders to remain agile in the face of uncertainty (and it sets a great example for people to follow).
  8. Work is a tool to develop people who, in turn, do great work. Traditional view of leadership is that leaders get work done through people. Which is true, however, I also believe that available body of work is an opportunity to develop people. You can use people as ‘resources’ OR you can use work as a ‘resource’ to develop people.
  9. Leaders in the new world have to be graceful and decent – even when facing uncertainties and chaos. They have to respect people, their time and their strengths.

Bonus:

With those thoughts, I wish you a glorious 2015!


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