Walk through any bookstore today (if you can find one) or search Amazon for books on leadership and you will find thousands of books devoted to leadership and management.  Many are offering their take on leadership complete with the tips, tricks, diagrams and charts that accompany so many of the essays on leadership seen today.

The focus on leadership in many of those texts is on applying the author’s methodology in your organization and to the people within it.

But wait, what is leadership?

At the core, effective leaders are people who have developed skills that allow them to enter into conversations that create a new space of possibilities that did not exist before for their organizations and the people within them.  Leadership is about creating communities of people and building new networks within organizations that create a space for innovation, and open up new worlds for people to create new offers for their customers and the people they care about. Effective leaders then create movement within the organization toward those new possibilities.

What skills do leaders need?  Today I will talk about listening.

Effective leaders are skillful listeners.  They are not listening to gather information, or tabulate data, rather they are listening for the concerns that are in the background of conversations.  When we listen for information, we are listening for the relevant facts, data, and attempting to determine if things are true of false.  Information is often translated into a problem that needs to be solved and seen as being as simple as making a choice between choice A and B.  But information is created by people who are observing some event or situation and, in that observation, they are interpreting the world with their own bias.  Effective leaders are listening for something in the background of many conversations – concerns. When we speak about problems and issues, we are revealing a concern about some future possibility that is opening or closing for us.  Often the problems that present themselves on the surface of a conversation are revealing a deeper set of concerns that are manifesting themselves in the background.

Through careful listening effective leaders are creating a space for a new and unusual conversation to happen.  Instead of offering solutions and suggestions, an effective leader is asking questions to develop a rich conversation around the distinctions and differences being put forth.  In this environment, the leader is creating trust within the organization through an open sharing of concerns and possibilities.

Like any new skill, listening is a skill that needs to be practiced.  What new conversations will you enter into this week that will allow you to practice your listening skills?