Don’t mind me, I am just leading

23 May

Lead by listening

Our ability to lead is built on our ability to observe.    A powerful way to do that is through listening. The power of listening is a deep power to have: it creates connections, it spurs ideas and it gains followers.

Listening means moving yourself out of the way to let the thoughts and ideas of others come through.  It also means allowing  them to have the space to talk while you  listen intently without the need to interject or even respond.

Throughout my career, I have been naturally drawn to those things that allow me to listen to people. It might be that I am introvert ( read: I process internally not that I am shy–see that “Diva” name above).   I also get excited from “riffing” off other people’s  ideas  and I feel most confident in my leadership when I have listened.

Where i learned

  • Dorm Advisor

Reflective listening: I remember learning about reflective listening as I prepared to take my place as a dorm advisor during college.  This type of listening urges the listener to reflect back what you have heard from the person who is speaking.  It does not mean “parroting” back verbatim their words.  That is annoying. It means synthesizing what they said and then asking them if you understood.

I wish I could say that I practiced this skill with perfection during college with the kids on my floor.  I didn’t.   I was in my early 20s ( um, who does that?).   But I remembered the theory and as I have grown older and  I have gotten beyond theory to actual practice.

  • Facilitator

Active Listening: To facilitate is to listen. It is that simple.  One of the most important roles of a facilitator is to listen to conversations, synthesize and synergize–yes, i made up a word– the conversation taking place.  I learned early on that when I facilitate, I  actually have to push aside my own thoughts and  ideas in order to focus purely on the conversation taking place in front of me.  Doing that well requires  listening  intently, deeply and actively.

  • Trainer

Empathic  listening: How often have you attended a training and within the first 15 minutes said” Oh this does not apply to me”?

If a trainer is really worth her “salt”, then her training is going to be  specialized for the audience.  And that specialization comes from listening to both the client that is paying for the training and the participant who is attending the training. In training terms that is called  “meeting the learner where they are”.

Being a trainer takes understanding both the needs, concerns and objectives of two parties.  Again, you have to move yourself out of the way to make space for the learning to occur. In most cases, I have found that their needs (although they would not know it) are never too far apart!

What I practice

I am now bringing all of these listening skills  to SocialChange Diva.   Through  salons and coaching, I have listened .  At first I thought, “Oh I am not talking enough”.  I have realized that by creating that space for women to talk and by listening, I was leading these women to understand, connect and lead better.

So, the next time you see someone in a leadership position doing more listening than talking, don’t mistake that lack of response as inaction, but instead understand that when people really listen, you see the wheels turning in their brains and what you witness are the first seeds of a plan.

With an active ear,


(SECRET:  Active listening is the same as reflective listening is the same as empathic listening.  The lesson here is just to LISTEN!)

photo courtesy of  ky_olsen


2 Responses to “Don’t mind me, I am just leading”

  1. heidimassey May 23, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    Right on Ericka! Quite often, people have limited ideas about leadership. The leader is that loud charismatic person up front telling everyone what to do. What you have written about is that leading can take many different forms. Sometimes the most effective place to lead is from the back…sometimes the middle….and sometimes up front. What I LOVE about you is that you have the ability to lead from each of those places with incredible effectiveness. Just recently, on a salon phone conversation, you didn’t feel the need to hijack the group to go where you decided we needed to go. You were able to synthesize and yes synergize your insights with the signals being conveyed by the group to take the conversation to a significantly higher and more meaningful level because you were meeting us where we were at. You are a rare breed who is comfortable adapting your leadership style to the needs of those you are leading.

    Keep leading from all different places. The world (and women in particular) needs more leaders like you. I, for one, am energized, inspired and enlightened by your wisdom and feel fortunate to be able to learn from you.

    • ericka May 24, 2010 at 12:13 am #

      I did not pay for that endorsement. Promise. Thank you Heidi for that observation. I do think that leading from the middle and even from the back is a more subtle form of leadership. I have read numerous articles about listening lately but not many of them are telling what are different avenues to practice listening.

      I hope this provided a few hints.


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