March 17, 2015

One in Four CEOs Has a “Listening Deficit”


Listening in Business

Harvard Business Review reports results of a 360-degree feedback study: one out of four CEOs has a listening deficit. Did you hear that? Let me repeat it for the 1/4 of you that did not hear me. One out of four CEOs possesses a listening deficit. Just imagine the effects. What a collaboration killer. It can derail a company, yes your company.

What happens when you really listen?

You reach an understanding of your employees, customers, vendors, and other community partners. People listen less as they go up the career ladder because:  1) they get "I am in charge" syndrome; and 2) they develop an "I am expected to already know this" fear. When you put a frog in boiling water, it immediately jumps out. Put a frog in a pot of cold water, slowly turn up the heat, and the frog will cook in place. The same thing incrementally happens to a CEO. Everyone comes to a CEO for answers. The CEO may feel they cannot say, "I do not know" as they may lose the respect, but by listening to colleagues, they may develop solutions in a shorter time versus independently.  

Do you have two ears?

God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. HR representatives, customer service folks, and especially sales people, shut your mouth and listen. As a peddler first, I coach, "Don't spill your candy in the lobby." Listening takes time. The rewards are great for those who invest in listening versus taking a short cut or making assumptions.

What are listening limits?

As HR professionals, we invite dialogue to maintain a workplace with open and honest communication, which can be contentious. We let people rant, yet refuse to be sucked-in. We sit quietly and listen. The popular TV series, Downton Abbey, plays with this powerful silence technique. The old, "When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen," TV commercial also comes to mind.

More listening opportunities?

Social media has given us a lot more "ears" listening to stories about our business, as well as a lot more mouths talking about us - both positively and negatively. Another channel to "tune into" on a regular basis, if we ignore it peril waits. Recently, an insurance plan used by our Professional Employer Organization (our company and client employees accessed it) was less than desirable. People let us know. Did we go with status quo? Nope. We listened to the recommendation that we go back to the prior carrier. The positive response has been overwhelming.

Listening means more business, better business. When evaluating new clients, you will "hear" what is coming, know what you are getting into a head of time, and begin to pick opportunities that are more profitable. Imagine that classic magician's trick. You'll pluck a gold coin from behind your ear and the applause will be deafening.


Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Read this article in the Reno Gazette-Journal here

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