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David Kay


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Leadership – faking it


How well do you listen? In an excerpt from his new book, David Kay questions how well we listen to our leaders, and how well they listen to us. 

Have you ever attended an all-hands meeting/call or Town Hall meeting? Ever looked forward to it? Well, call me strange, and many people have, but I look forward to these and the grand finale: question time.

The aim of these sessions is to communicate a clear and consistent message to a large number of people in a timely manner, which seems good to me. It is great for senior managers to get out there and meet their people; after all, that is what they should be doing. A great deal of time has been spent rehearsing and looking natural (believe me, the ones that look the most natural are often the most rehearsed and polished). So why is this time diminished by question time at the end?

Think about sessions you have attended. Which of these do you recognise?

  • How many times have you heard someone answering the question they would like to answer and not the one posed?
  • How many times do they rephrase the question that distorts or takes away the true meaning of the original question?
  • How many times do they honestly say they do not know the answer but take a ‘stab’ at it?
  • Ever heard the speaker asking ‘does that answer your question?’ How often does the person say yes but their body language say no?

Fake listening: As people start their careers, I genuinely believe that people are good listeners. They are interested in what people have to say, what people are talking about and are curious to find out more. They are attentive and focused until they go on the ‘Faking It’ course (I’ve never seen this advertised but I’ve seen a lot of the product being used). Slowly but surely they become a ‘listener’. They nod, smile, agree and appear engrossed but in reality they are not paying full attention. A great example of this was an MP on the BBC. He was on a sofa as part of the panel on a morning TV show. There was a break, and the guest band played their new single. The camera caught him looking totally bored, until he realised he was on camera and then he became the greatest fan, moving to the music and nodding enthusiastically, a fantastic example of faking it. 

Can people tell when you are faking listening? The answer is not 100% but most of us get a sense; for me, it is often a feeling. When I get this feeling, my trust and belief in the leader diminishes. Real listening takes time and effort, effort that senior leaders often divert to multitasking; maybe it is the only way to deal with the day-to-day workload and the avalanche of emails they get.

The more illuminated leaders can focus on the moment and the issue at hand – it has their full attention. Question time with these leaders builds trust and rapport rather than diminishing it. Leaders – please be fully present during question time. Whether you are aware of this or not, you are always modelling leadership. The question is what type of leader are you – one that lights up the room as you come in or as you go out?

David has over 25 years' experience in learning, leadership, management development and talent management, working in a range of industries including banking, information technology, consulting, insurance, utilities and telecommunications. You can buy David's book here

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David Kay

Project Manager

Read more from David Kay

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