Several months ago I was asked to be a part of a community committee to collaborate on a website to promote travel to my community. The committee consisted of representatives from the chamber of commerce, the visitors’ bureau, the city and a downtown merchants association.
I was looking forward to this exercise because I had often said that establishing a dialogue among the various community organizations could be a valuable endeavor. It could evolve into a number of things but if nothing else would at least make the various organizations aware of each other’s purpose and maybe reveal ways we could assist one another.
I was one of two men on the committee among six women; three of whom headed their respective organizations. The other man, a local business owner, found after several meetings that the direction the committee was heading did not serve his immediate needs and dropped from the group. This left me alone with the women to attempt to reach an agreement on a website that hopefully would serve all of the organizations desire to increase awareness of the community to potential visitors.
I learned several leadership lessons from my participation but none more prominent than just how important is the art of listening. First of all I was in the midst of six women, I’m a man, HELLO… there is a natural, built-in barrier to communication. I didn’t think about reading “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” before I came to the meeting.
The whole man, woman thing aside, I found that my best strategy was to listen. After all I was having trouble talking without being interrupted. By listening I discovered important information about each person, their organization and what was important to them for the project to be successful. I also found out that by being silent and listening I was asked to express my opinion and was able to do so without interruption. Listening stopped the growing frustration I was feeling by attending these meetings and started to make them enjoyable and ultimately quite productive.
Here is a video by Tom Peters that stresses the importance of listening when you are a leader.
An essential part of being a leader is connecting to your team and your followers. You cannot connect without first understanding who they are and what is important to them. Doing a great deal of listening will help you do this. Try it. The next conversation or meeting spend more time actively listening than talking. I think you will be surprised just how much more you learn and how easier it will be to connect.
Oh, the man – women thing, you’re on your own.