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Why You Need to Stop Talking to Start Leading

5 Reasons to Zip Your Lip and Listen!

Recently, a colleague and I were at a dinner function with a group of leaders from a client company. We found ourselves seated at a table with a new member of the executive team who we were meeting for the first time. Waiting for the plated meals to arrive, we eased into the conversation with small talk about sports and weather, and then we went deeper inquiring about his family, his career, his thoughts on the industry.

When the dinner wrapped up 45 minutes later, my colleague and I had learned a lot about him. We had learned about his years working abroad, his days as a partner at an IT consulting firm and his time on Wall Street. Yet he had learned nothing about me or my colleague. In 45 minutes of conversation, he hadn’t asked either of us a single question.

Sadly, this common, self-absorbed style of relating has reached new, alarming levels. Social interactions no longer seem to be two-way. Whether with friends, colleagues, new acquaintances or even family members, the common courtesies of asking questions and listening have given way to an urgent need to speak and be heard.

In my work as an executive coach, I try to talk no more than 30% of the time, giving my clients the majority of the airtime. When I am talking, I’m mostly asking questions. By giving my clients that airtime, I’m able to understand their challenges, relate to their needs and extend the empathy they badly want and need. For me, listening is how l learn. For my clients, it’s a way to show I value them.

A recent Harvard study zeros in on the scale of this problem: People spend most of their time during conversations talking about their own viewpoints and tend to self-promote when meeting people for the first time. In contrast, high question-askers—those who probe for information from others—are perceived as more responsive and are better liked.

Of course, being liked is not the main goal of conversation, but it can be the starting point for healthy relationships. The people in our lives want to feel valued and validated. And asking people questions does this and more. In my work with leaders and teams, I’ve learned that asking genuine questions and listening to what people have to say can have these benefits:

  • Improve engagement by showing we value the views of others
  • Improve the quality of decisions by understanding multiple perspectives on an issue
  • Improve collaboration and buy-in by inviting dissenting views that may otherwise go unheard
  • Increase influence by involving others in decisions and direction setting
  • Develop stronger workplace relationships, leading us to want to invest in the success of others.

The job of the leader is to ensure that bad news surfaces fast. The sooner the toughest issues get raised, the sooner they get fixed. Yet many leaders I observe put more energy into telling and convincing than into listening and learning. Leaders are often mistakenly viewed as the experts who have all the answers.

At higher levels, the worse it seems to get. Many of the CEOs and SVPs I work with are shielded from the real issues. They have failed to create a culture of openness and candor, which must start with their own curiosity and interest in others—with their willingness to ask and listen.

These same leaders often seek counsel from their coaches, asking, “How do I develop better relationships with my people? How can we increase employee engagement? How can I show people they are really valued? How can we create a culture of learning and innovation?”

Fortunately, there’s a simple approach that doesn’t require a big budget. Here are four ways to get started:

  1. In your meetings, observe what’s going on. How much are people talking and positioning versus asking, listening and learning? What is your own tendency?
  2. Try not to talk first. Force yourself to let others go first. Don’t jump in too quickly to fill the silence.
  3. Make a habit of asking questions that increase learning like, “Tell me more about your recommendation. What am I missing? What are we not thinking of? What are some other ways we can approach this challenge? What’s our real purpose in this?”
  4. Go deep by asking follow-up questions. Model showing curiosity about others’ views.

As a leader, you are well served to ask the right questions versus always having the right answers. Try it for a couple of weeks and see what happens. 


Mom and Business Leader - Not Mutually Exclusive

CEOMOM interview with Abby Curnow-Chavez

The latest issue of CEOMOM Magazine features one of our rockstar partners and we are so proud of her!! Here's an excerpt from their interview with Abby Curnow-Chavez.

Abby Curnow-Chavez believes that women will and should take the lead in creating work environments that embrace the full human experience. That shift starts with acknowledging the role of family, specifically parents, in the workplace.

You have compared motherhood to entrepreneurship and business stating that some of the job requirements and leadership traits are interchangeable. How does being a mother help to cultivate the leadership traits needed for entrepreneurship and corporate management?
The two big thoughts I have here are about intention and authenticity. In business we put a great deal of effort into defining success – what’s our plan, where we spend our time, and where we spend our money. I think the same principles apply in motherhood - it's important to get clear about what matters and then be intentional about how we want to spend our time so we can be the mothers we want to be. Often, we let work take over our lives and we lose our "intention" in the areas of self-care and who we want to be in our key life roles such as mother, partner, wife, daughter, sister and friend.

I believe strongly in embracing authenticity and human-ness at work, in the same way we do in motherhood. In the workplace today, we have so many dynamics that are integrated into what is going on in our home lives. We are mothers and fathers who want to be engaged and involved parents. We are caring for elderly parents like never before. We can’t and shouldn’t have to pretend these things aren’t important in our lives. In many organizations, it’s the women who are leading the way and modeling what the “human” work place looks like. We all know that many of today’s lingering workplace policies were historically built by powerful men during a different era, but what people want from work is different today – both men and women want change. They want fulfillment and success in every area of their life. Some organizations have figured it out. We see it in their exceptional business performance and in their ability to retain women at all levels. As female leaders, we have the unique opportunity to lead and model the human workplace. We can be great parents AND make a huge impact at work. We can achieve both. They are not mutually exclusive.


You can't ignore 70%!

November 15, 2018

We all know that relationships are important and we often focus on building them with our direct supervisor or colleagues who we work closely with. We'd like to challenge you to find someone on your team who you don't know that well - ask them for coffee or to talk a walk and try to avoid just gossiping about others on your team or about the organization. Here are some questions to get started:

What are you focused on in your current role?
What do you love most about your job or about working here?
What’s most stressful for you?
What common goals or aspirations might we share?
What could get in the way of a successful working relationship for us? 
Where could we have conflicting goals, priorities, timelines or needs?
What are our personality types?  How do they show up at work?
How can we work better together?
Are there some agreements or norms that would allow us to be more effective in working together (e.g., frequency or mode of check-in)?

Be the one who starts the conversation!