“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” Andy Stanley

Hurricane season is upon us and Hawaii has already experienced the devastating impact of Hurricane Lane’s 50-inch record rainfall. Hawaii has never experienced a storm such as this and officials weren’t prepared for their State of Emergency. With numerous natural disasters as well as human tragedies, leaders are taking renewed interest in preparing for unexpected “rogue waves.” Organizations, large and small, are concerned about the damaging impact of unexpected challenges.

Unlike natural disasters, many organizational rogue waves can often be avoided and/or minimized. Effective leaders communicate and prepare their “crews” for rough seas and unexpected weather patterns so that they know what to do. When crews hear “hold fast,” for example, they know to batten down the hatches and get to a secure position. Prepared for changes and obstacles, they are more likely to navigate the challenges without media attention and/or employees abandoning the ship.

At sea, when crew members signal danger ahead, their leaders listen. Corporate leaders need to develop similar skills and develop strategies to gain input and solicit feedback from their employees. Those who do listen can better address issues quickly. Unfortunately, leaders with a single-minded focus on action and getting things done may view listening as slowing things down. Instead of taking time to pay attention, ask questions or consider consequences, they charge ahead and ignore warnings from their own employees. Some leaders actually silence detractors or those with alternative points of view and suffer devastating consequences. Consider the following:

2007 – Officials at multiple levels of government were told that the 1-35 Mississippi River Bridge was “structurally deficient” for nearly two decades. The Minnesota bridge collapse killed 13 people.

2014 – The Flint water crisis first started when the drinking water source was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the cheaper Flint River. Officials failed to take complaints and information from citizens seriously until 12 people died.

Even after serious consequences or disaster, many of these leaders attempted to justify their decisions and explain why what they did was right at the time. When leaders fail to admit their mistakes, employees are less likely to be engaged, share ideas, and protect their company’s assets. Employees learn to keep concerns to themselves, shut down and remain silent with leaders who:

  • Project a know-it-all persona
  • Fail to acknowledge or value their opinions
  • Ignore the people with the most experience, knowledge and expertise
  • Ridicule or embarrass employees who speak up

If you want to encourage your employees to speak up, hear about issues and be prepared for the unexpected, you must learn to listen and listen to learn.

To test whether or not your team has been “silenced,” check out the download: Build a Team Listening Culture: Sounds of Silence.

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