Top performing leaders listen more (and differently) than low performers

Morgan sat staring out the window as he waited to meet with the Vice President. Morgan’s project had failed. Millions of dollars were lost. Company and individual reputations were smashed. People were leaving for other jobs.

Morgan hoped he could find someone or something to blame. Unfortunately, Morgan is not likely to find the real culprit because he is unwilling to look in the mirror.

However, if Morgan were to look, here is what he would see from the last year. At the beginning of the project, several team members brought up concerns. Morgan discounted their input and insisted on moving full speed ahead. A few weeks later, Sally, came to Morgan to point out a flaw in the design. Morgan half-heartedly listened but assured her it would be worked out when they debugged later.

After a month, the team drew straws to decide who would have to tell Morgan about another problem. Lance lost and had the unlucky task of sharing the bad news. Morgan was angry about Lance’s warnings and said we all just need to pitch in and make this happen.

After that interaction, Morgan didn’t hear any more issues from any of the team members. Meetings and one-on-ones seemed rather routine and trouble free. When he asked for feedback, everyone said everything was fine. Morgan felt sure things were humming along. That was until this week when he got word from customers that they were cancelling all future orders.

If Morgan could relive the last year, what could he differently? Here are four ways Morgan and you can listen differently to get the most from their teams.

What exactly are people saying (or not saying)? Take time to hear your people out. Encourage them to expand on concerns, perceptions, and ideas. And, most of all, keep your mouth shut. Don’t interrupt or make the story about you.

What is the concern behind the concern? Find out the real meaning of issues. Go beyond their words and look for implications. Don’t expect your people to speak with perfect clarity. Nudge them to say more. Help them discover what they really mean.

What are they really recommending? People often make vague recommendations. Ask them specifically what they want to see happen. Once you hear the recommendation, check back to make sure that what they said is what you understood.

What else do I really need to hear? Most people will only share up to the level they believe you are willing to hear. Invite more information so your people will know you really are concerned. And, of course, do something with the feedback.

Don’t wait for your project to fail before you start really listening to your team. Top performing leaders learn early that listening provides them a competitive advantage.

About the Author
Dave Jennings accelerates meaningful change. He has worked with leaders from 20 of the Fortune 500 and spoken in 23 countries. His articles and commentary have been featured in The Washington Post, Forbes, and He is author of Catapulted: How Great Leaders Succeed Beyond their Experience. Contact Dave at
  1. Benoit Leclair Reply

    If you are willing to listen to your team and keep your composure when bad news are delivered, you will see a pending disaster coming way before everybody else, and be in a position to make a course correction in time to avoid the dreaded outcome.

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