Strong listening skills can make a critical difference in the performance of senior executives, but few are able to cultivate them. Here’s how.
A senior executive of a large consumer goods company had spotted a bold partnership opportunity in an important developing market and wanted to pull the trigger quickly to stay ahead of competitors. In meetings on the topic with the leadership team, the CEO noted that this trusted colleague was animated, adamant, and very persuasive about the move’s game-changing potential for the company. The facts behind the deal were solid.
The CEO also observed something troubling, however: his colleague wasn’t listening. During conversations about the pros and cons of the deal and its strategic rationale, for example, the senior executive wasn’t open to avenues of conversation that challenged the move or entertained other possibilities. What’s more, the tenor of these conversations appeared to make some colleagues uncomfortable. The senior executive’s poor listening skills were short-circuiting what should have been a healthy strategic debate.
Eventually, the CEO was able to use a combination of diplomacy, tactful private conversation, and the bureaucratic rigor of the company’s strategic-planning processes to convince the executive of the need to listen more closely to his peers and engage with them more productively about the proposal. The resulting conversations determined that the original deal was sound but that a much better one was available—a partnership in the same country. The new partnership presented slightly less risk to the company than the original deal but had an upside potential exceeding it by a factor of ten.
The situation facing the CEO will be familiar to many senior executives. Listening is the front end of decision making. It’s the surest, most efficient route to informing the judgments we need to make, yet many of us have heard, at one point or other in our careers, that we could be better listeners. Indeed, many executives take listening skills for granted and focus instead on learning how to articulate and present their own views more effectively.
This approach is misguided. Good listening—the active and disciplined activity of probing and challenging the information garnered from others to improve its quality and quantity—is the key to building a base of knowledge that generates fresh insights and ideas. Put more strongly, good listening, in my experience, can often mean the difference between success and failure in business ventures (and hence between a longer career and a shorter one). Listening is a valuable skill that most executives spend little time cultivating. (For more about one executive’s desire to be a better listener, see “Why I’m a listener: Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer,” forthcoming on mckinseyquarterly.com.)
The many great listeners I’ve encountered throughout my career as a surgeon, a corporate executive, and a business consultant have exhibited three kinds of behavior I’ll highlight in this article. By recognizing—and practicing—them, you can begin improving your own listening skills and even those of your organization. (…)
Font: notícia de Mackinsey Quarterly febrer 2012
Fotografia de isamizdat CC,2.0 (by-nc-sa)