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Typically, when we think of “listening” we think in terms of communication skills. I’d like to expand that thinking into another area of listening, not just to the words, but for the message — the real message.
In answer to the title of this article: Yes, people are definitely “listening,” both overtly and unconsciously. As entrepreneurial leaders, we influence and impact others far more than we may realize, and in ways we may not have considered. In fact, the “messages” we send are very often much more powerful than the words we use to communicate, and these messages link directly to efficiency and improved performance.
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As you grow and lead your company, there are three key areas people “listen” to carefully: Courage, character, and competence.
Courage is the ability to lead down paths you know are correct when others remain uncertain or even unclear that there is a path at all. You, as the leader, typically have a vision for what could be, or how to make something happen, while others who follow you are constantly checking back to ensure you remain convinced of the approach. They look to you to keep moving forward, despite all the setbacks, problems, obstacles or hurdles — things that entrepreneurs face far more frequently than most.
Those following you want to see your courage to persevere, to believe in the foreseen outcome. They derive strength from that and their own courage grows. What they hear and see from you either encourages or discourages them, and so they listen for courage in you.
For your part, the path is rarely clear or easy. Consequently, you need the personal courage to listen to your inner convictions, act on them and believe that if something goes amiss, that it’s in your power to correct it. This personal courage may not always be obvious to others, but it is always felt, and what those you’re leading are looking to gain from you.
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Early in the history of Eagle’s Flight we were only a provider of training to the conference and event market. It was successful and very profitable. However, I had taken a year-and-a-half to write a book on leadership to launch a new line of business for Eagle’s Flight and then brought that plan to the team.
To say it was not overly well received by all would be an understatement. I heard all the reasons what we shouldn’t do it: “not our hedgehog,” “it’ll confuse our clients” and “why rock the boat?” Nonetheless, I was sure we needed to diversify our offerings, and that our clients would welcome our approach to the topic — so I just went ahead and made it happen.
This courage to persevere in the face of well-intended counsel has since yielded great returns, and allowed us to grow significantly, but it took courage to persevere along paths I knew at the time were right.
Character is made up of many things, but the one most listened to is “integrity.” As a leader, your word needs to be something on which those following you can fully rely. As an entrepreneurial leader this is exceptionally critical, as you are often leading through uncharted territory and you are the light — often the only light — on the path. If what you say cannot be trusted, if your decisions are not clear and consistently supported and if your actions don’t match your words, then the team becomes irresolute, unsettled and ultimately unproductive.
As a consequence, your character is always a focal point, your words and actions listened to and judgements made accordingly. These judgments lead to conclusions about the degree of trust you’ll be afforded. With high trust comes people’s best work, with low trust comes a highly unproductive, and usually unhealthy, work environment. Our people are listening, intently, to our character and we need to pay close attention to the message we’re sending in that area.
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At Eagle’s Flight, John heads up our leadership practice and is exceptionally strong in sales, a skill he’s honed over the years. In addition, his passion is the development of emerging talent, something into which he puts considerable energy, and at which he is extraordinarily effective. His success as a leader is less because of what he teaches and coaches, but is more because of what his own life demonstrates. Others learn readily from him because they know he practices what he teaches and his personal commitment to their growth and development is an absolute priority. It is this manifestation of his character that gives him the influence he has to enable others to produce great results.
Competence should be an entrepreneur’s strong suit! As the visionary who typically brings an idea to market, the entrepreneurial leader is usually the most knowledgeable about the company’s products and services. Additionally, you have successfully tackled the challenges of funding, staffing, strategy, innovation and implementation, or they are being effectively addressed.
Those looking to you for direction are often less skilled in all those areas necessary to ensure the company’s success. As such, they are constantly looking and listening to how you would get things done, tackle problems or even simply just decide to take action. Your competence is a foundation on which they depend and they are looking to learn from, and assess, your approach. The competence you show in several areas, and teach to others where possible, is critical to their own success and the efficiency of the organization. It is something they “listen to” daily.
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At our organization, Sue is our chief operating officer, and is responsible not only for day-to-day operations, but also the implementation of major client initiatives. These are often unique in their desired outcome and often take her team into uncharted territory. Because of Sue’s exceptional experience with global accounts, her track record with successfully leading complicated initiatives and her ability to understand human behavior and learning styles, her team’s trust in her ability is absolute, as she leads them into new ventures. That trust is rooted in their confidence in her competence, which then allows them to operate at their best. Her competence is a safety net for their talent to be unleashed.
The challenge of successful entrepreneurial leadership is great, but so are the people you have around you. As they listen to your courage, character and competence, ensure the message they’re receiving is actually the one you want sent.