Friday, December 30, 2011

Shut Up and Listen

This may be a rather crass way to start a new year. However, it tells a critically important story. I have several children; I have learned a lot from them. One particular lesson continues to play an important role in my life.

Late one night one of the teens came home from a school activity. He was upset. I do not remember the situation. However, as a caring father, I tried to solve his problem. In a moment of extreme frustration he said to me, “Dad, shut up and listen!” I was stunned. My children never talked to me that way, and here I was trying to help.  My first reaction was one of indignation with a twinge of hurt. Fortunately, I was so caught off guard that I stopped talking. He then poured out his problems and his feelings. After getting it all out, he asked for my input and my help.

Through all of my experiences, training, and education, this advice from a child tops the stack. Through my observations of many organizations, this one change – leadership talking less and listening more – would mean the difference between marginal success and optimal success, or even between success and failure.

As I look around at businesses and organization, I want to shout that advice to them: “shut up and listen!” No, I am not talking about listening to me. I am talking to leadership about being willing to stop amid all of the “stuff” that goes on unceasingly around them. I am saying, as my son did to me, to just close the mouth long enough to hear what is really going on. With all of the really poor decisions  many American businesses have made in the past, they need to get out of the telling mode and into the learning mode; perhaps starting with their employees.

As a New Year’s resolution, perhaps we could all be more willing to listen and more willing to learn.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Base new action on a closer look

Although I continually complain that particularly in the business world – in training and practice – regardless of the talk, there is little change. Sometimes, I am wrong; I need to take a closer look of specific situations. I recommend you do the same – even of those things of which you are very familiar.

Let me give you an example.

I have a piano that is over 100 years old. I have had this instrument over 40 years. In that time, I have spent hundreds of hours playing it. The other day, I decided it needed to be cleaned. The edge of most keys was dirty. I assumed that was the result of deteriorating ivory. However, as I began cleaning those areas, I realized the reason for the dirt was paint.

On the edges of most keys was a strip of white paint. It very closely matched the ivory. A little scraping revealed complete, unworn key surfaces. How long had the paint been there? How many times had I cleaned those keys without noticing the paint? Perhaps, it had been there for my 40 years and more. What is the point?

If you are a MBA teacher, how closely have you examined what you teach and how you teach it, and compared it with what really needs to be in tomorrow’s business leaders?

If you are a business leader, how closely have you examined the potential of those who work for you? How closely have you examined your personal practices, and your reasons for them?

Although, I recommend standing back and looking at your practices, I suggest you also take a very close look. Sometimes, we accept what could and should be changed, even if it is in plain sight and under our very nose – even if we have used it for 40 years.