I walked into my office this morning and no sooner did I set my gear down when the first person showed up at my door. Their face was covered with distress, their demeanor shouted, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” as they began to explain to me the troubles they were having with two of their staff members. As I listened to this manager, we’ll call him Steve, explain the situation selfish thoughts started running through my head: “Jeez, really you’re coming to me with this right when I just walked in the door”, “Gosh, can’t I just settle in first.” Thankfully, those thoughts stayed between my ears and my mouth stayed shut.
According to the National Science Foundation the average person has about 70k thoughts per day or 1 thought per second and I am no exception; by the time this employee completed their story I was able to push past about 240 selfish thoughts and ascertain what they needed from me in this situation. You know what Steve needed? Steve simply needed me to listen, to acknowledge that he was dealing with an unpleasant situation on top of the mountain of work already on his plate. As Steve departed from my office I thought to myself “Wow I just dodged another leadership bullet.” I could have really made a mess of that encounter if I had acted on what was going on between my ears. Good thing I just listened.
Just as that thought cleared my head another person walked into my office and started out the conversation something like this, “Chris what are you trying to do run me out of here?” He was holding in his hand an email I had sent him last night delegating a task that would take some patience and persistence to achieve. While I was trying to listen to this person, Steve was back lurking outside my office. I looked up and asked Steve what he needed, what Steve came back to my office to say is not near as important as the reason that compelled him back. He did not state this but Steve had not received the assurance in his first conversation from me that I truly understood the situation; he had come back with a minor follow-up, again not for direction but for confirmation that as his leader I really “got it”. He came back because he was not convinced I had been listening to him. I obviously did not communicate that I was listening in our first meeting just minutes before; I had left Steve feeling unsupported. That is probably because I was not really listening, not really focused on Steve. While I was telling Steve I understood, what I had been thinking was about me, my being inconvenienced the moment I walked in the door. My level of commitment to lead and support Steve had been reduced by selfish thoughts.
People can usually discern when a leader is not listening, and they will normally not follow that leader for long.
- What do you do when self-absorption takes over?