Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Great Leadership Requires Inspiration, VI

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Actor and ho...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeBy Michael Hume

Help Others Harvest Inspiration By Being A Great Listener

If you're like most of my coaching clients, you are always on the lookout for ways to improve your leadership - and you want to be a more inspirational leader.

One thing we've learned over the years of leadership counseling is that, if you want to be inspirational for others (especially as a leader), you have to be inspired. Almost anyone can hold down a solid management job, but great leadership requires inspiration.

You should plant the seeds for personal inspiration by looking for the good in your life, and in other people. You can cultivate your personal inspiration by developing the habit of feeding your inner "Entrepreneur" with a steady diet of positive, inspiring messages ... making sure the movies you see and the books you read leave you, for the most part, feeling inspired.

Look to your past, present, and future for things to appreciate; do what you can to inspire yourself, but acknowledge that you can't force inspiration, but must (at a certain point) be blessed with it.

Learn to disclose your thoughts and feelings (and experiences) to others through story telling - it's a great way to build trust. But to make sure it isn't "all about me," learn how to get others to harvest their own inspiration by inviting them to tell you their stories. How good are you at inviting disclosure from others? Be honest: how good a listener are you?

Many people report they find leaders most inspirational who they see as excellent listeners. It's a theme I've seen repeated continuously throughout a long career of leadership counseling.

You are a reasonably good listener already, or you wouldn't have decided (even unconsciously) that you're a candidate for inspirational leadership, or even to be a great leader. You probably wouldn't have read this far. But here are a few additional thoughts to consider as you take inventory of your listening and sensitivity skills.

First, you have to be the one who goes first. People simply will not tell you their stories (especially if you're the boss) if they never hear your stories. Face it: telling your story makes you feel vulnerable. So your people may think you believe personal disclosure to be inappropriate, or that you'll judge them too harshly if they take the risk to open up.

So prove them wrong. Tell brief, powerful, practical stories that not only show it's OK to be vulnerable, but which model in their targeted brevity what makes a good story. Practice. Get a good coach to help you (feel free to give me a call).

It's important that you ask for the story, too. Say things like "I'd love to hear how that all unfolded" or "Tell me how that went for you." Ask open questions.

Make sure you take the time to create space for disclosure. It doesn't take all day, and it's a good thing - your unit's efficiency (or the bottom line of your business) might suffer if you while away too many hours in storytelling! But you can afford to take fifteen or twenty minutes to connect with your people through story telling - and through giving them time and space to talk and be heard.

Final thought: one of the most important things you can do when you're listening to stories is something emerging leaders often omit - REACT! Don't just sit passively by - your colleague will probably feel "interviewed" or "downloaded," and might not decide to open up again. That said, don't jump in too much. You can be an active participant in your teammate's story without hijacking it, or making it all about you.

An example: a colleague tells you the story of how her last sales presentation went. She gets to the part where the potential client gives her a preliminary objection, or even a flat "no." An uninspiring leader will jump in with questions like "Well, did you tell them about the new procedure?" or "What did you leave out?"

How do those interjections feel to the story teller? At best, it'll feel like you're more interested in the problem she faced (and how you would've solved it) than you are in her. At worst, she'll unconsciously assume you are judging her, and assessing (unfavorably) her ability to solve her own problems.

A better interjection would be "Wow, that must've been scary" or "Hmm, how did that feel?" Best might be "That had to be off-putting ... how did you turn it around?" That's practical empathy, combined with a positive expectation.

Note how little a thing can turn a conversation completely around, from making your colleague feel unfavorably assessed to making her feel encouraged by a leader who's in her corner.

When you develop relationships that feature story-swaps and mutually-encouraging conversations, you will quickly earn a reputation as an inspirational leader. Get good at it, and watch your business or mission soar.

Michael Hume is a speaker, writer, and consultant specializing in helping people maximize their potential and enjoy inspiring lives. As part of his inspirational leadership mission, he coaches executives and leaders in growing their personal sense of well-being through wealth creation and management, along with personal vitality.

Michael and his wife, Kathryn, divide their time between homes in California and Colorado. They are very proud of their offspring, who grew up to include a homemaker, a rock star, a service talent, and a television expert. Two grandchildren also warm their hearts! Visit Michael's web site at

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