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Posted: July 02, 2012

Good leaders talk less and listen more

Be more interested than interesting

Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Just how valuable is it anyway to be one of the 10 most interesting CEOs on Twitter? It may not stroke a CEO’s ego to say this, but good leaders are more interested than interesting. I heard Curt Coffman, author of First Break All the Rules, make that point recently and have been pondering it ever since. How can leaders create the most value for the business? Ask employees and they’ll tell you every time that leaders should “talk less; listen more.”

If it’s true, as Coffman says, that “value-building leaders know that creating lifelong customers always trumps the traditional view of satisfying a customer within one transaction,” doesn’t it follow that event-based leadership is trumped by developing long-term employees?

Being interested is not only central to good leadership, it’s the essence of kindness. It builds trust and respect, but only if it’s authentic and constant. Try to fake interest with an occasional say-something-to-an-employee event and you’re missing out on one of the most personally satisfying and value generating aspects of being a leader.

It’s common knowledge that when people feel respected, organizations reap the benefits of better retention and job performance—not to mention profits. (And the converse is true: insensitivity brings more absenteeism and poor job performance as well as increases in things like accidents, sabotage and violence.) An entry-level employee recently mentioned that the CEO had stopped and taken time to say hello and welcome her to the organization. The fact that the CEO took what was probably less than a minute to see how she was doing surprised and moved her so much that she was still talking about it weeks later.

It should be this simple, but simplicity is often hard to achieve as many time-deprived leaders know firsthand. Make being interested a priority and you’ll find those precious few minutes a day.

Good leaders stay close

As Coffman emphasizes, we’ve made it to a time where good leaders are close to their people. The lives of employees, like those of all human beings, are messy. We used to expect employees to leave their “stuff” at the door, but now we know that’s impossible (and always was). And we still waste talent and time trying to make people into something they’re not, then wonder why they keep failing.

We start life being interested in everything other people do. Innately, we’re even wired for empathy. The problem is that we don’t value and nurture these gifts enough. They tend to get lost somewhere along the way; and by the time we’re leading organizations there’s often no trace of them. Leaders need to dust off their listening and empathy skills and practice them daily until they become a genuine and constant foundation for corporate communication and culture.

All of us are driven by emotions. Leaders who make people feel good make them want to stay—and be productive. It can make a huge difference whether people love working for you or just like it. Obviously, there are many factors at play between loving and liking where you work. But a major one is the interest leaders take in each of their people. Don’t worry if you have too many people to touch each individual; the stories of those you do touch will be heard by everyone.

To paraphrase Dr. Theodore Rubin who said, “Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom;” I say, “Being interested is more important than being interesting, and the recognition of this brings the success it takes to be one of Twitter’s most interesting leaders.”
Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a unique recruitment firm that helps companies find exceptional talent to accelerate their growth. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen  recently completed a two-year term as president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334 x5.


 

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of Golden-based TalenTrust, a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm that helps companies accelerate their growth by hiring exceptional talent. Kathleen is president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334 x5.

 

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