Emerging leaders: Daring to really listen
Updated: Apr 15
[This blog post is part of a new series “Emerging leaders” that will explore ideas, practices and approaches to enable a new paradigm in leadership: an integral one that unites the external with the internal, the heart with the mind and the femenine with the masculine qualities. P&I believes in the potential of such a paradigm to bring new and fresh eyes to the interaction between knowledge and policy. Contributions from interested readers are more than welcome].
One of the most salient traits of leaders who are already walking the new paradigm is the ability to really listen. This is a crucial part of having a genuine and profound conversation: with oneself, with others, with reality. As co-creators of the current world, we need to honor the potential of good conversations as a source of new ideas and solutions. Also, maybe good conversations are the most effective and powerful mechanism of policy influence, something communicators and strategists could delve more deeply into when devising plans at government agencies and think tanks. How can we frame better arguments and communicate research findings more effectively without deeply paying attention to the others´ views, thoughts and feelings related to the concerned policy issue?
We are probably not well prepared for listening and the art of conversation yet. Navigating Facebook, reading newspaper headlines and listening to political debates at TV we can very clearly sense how most public conversations are characterized by polarized views, confrontations and the urging need to control and dominate. This is not limited to public media: we may find these tendencies within our own group meetings and organizational planning at public institutions and think tanks as well. In these spaces, we often limit ourselves to the traditional debates, resorting to similar arguments once and again.
While we resort to the same type of approaches, we are eager to see new leaders that are up to the world, our country, and our city´s most pressing problems. However, we are witnesses of how many times leaders fail because they lack listening and connecting with what is really going on.
Krista Tippet is a great example of a leader who listens. Since 2001 she has hosted conversations on the big questions of meaning for On Being, a radio program and podcast distributed to 400 public radio stations across the USA. Among the grounding virtues of a rich conversation that she shares in her Starter guide Better conversations, she highlights generous listening: “Listening is an everyday art and virtue, but it’s an art we have lost and must learn anew. Listening is more than being quiet while others have their say. It is about presence as much as receiving; it is about connection more than observing. Real listening is powered by curiosity. It involves vulnerability — a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. It is never in “gotcha” mode. The generous listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self an
Reconfirming what we know. Stuck in your own prison. Listening 1: Downloading. I-in-me. Attending from your open mind. Seeing new/disconfirming data. Understanding technical complexity. Listening 2: Factual. I-in-it. Listening 3: Empathic. Attending from your open heart. Seeing through the eyes of another. Understanding social complexity. I-in-you. Attending from Source (open will) Seeing from emerging futures. Understanding emerging complexity. Listening 4: Generative. I-in-now.
d one’s own most generous words and questions.”
The move towards an approach to genuinely experience how others think and feel to inform social innovation and change cannot be denied: from the Empathise stage of design thinking to avoiding downloading past patterns in Theory U, among others. Krista even offers a course for those willing to improve our conversational skills.
Otto Scharmer, creator of Theory U, stresses out how listening is the source of all great leadership: “Whenever I see leadership failures, and these days we have many occasions to see them, very deep the source of that failure is the lack of listening. It´s lack of connecting what is really going on in reality. It´s a disconnection between the leader on one side, and the situation on the other side.” To solve this disconnection, we can dare to move from traditional ways of listening (1 and 2) to more integral ways of listening (3 and 4), as proposed by Scharmer in this graph :
This is quite challenging in the field of promoting the use of knowledge in policy but we also need to admit that our conventional approaches have not yielded to the outcomes we would like to see. So, how about trying to attend from the heart and from our inner source when talking with others? How about opening up a space that allows what is willing to emerge from them express itself? Who dares to take this novel approach?