Jessica King was discussing her experience with a Lancaster consulting firm last month when she made an observation about leadership that has stuck with me.
“I think to be a leader in a volatile time, or today, you need to be probably more of a listener than a talker,” said King, who is executive director of Assets, a Lancaster nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs who want to make money while making the world a better place.
We had been talking about Work Wisdom LLC, a niche consulting firm that has been helping Assets maintain a healthy workplace as it grows.
King was thinking not just about leading an organization but about being a community leader, as well.
“We’re at a point where we’re looking at an economy that’s not working for everyone, pieces of our social fabric that are not working for everyone, social conflicts … things like the police and Black Lives Matter,” King said.
If you listen closely, you might notice that what many people want these days is a more sympathetic ear.
You can hear it locally in the mayoral contests throughout Central Pennsylvania, a topic being covered in the coming week’s Central Penn Business Journal. Many candidates are seeking to speak for people in neighborhoods who feel they have been ignored or left behind by revitalization elsewhere.
And you can hear it nationally among the Freedom Caucus in Congress and other conservatives who shot down President Donald Trump’s favored bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. They have felt left out of the loop, according to a report in the New York Times on the tense relationship between Trump and conservative House members.
It can be hard for leaders to listen. They are used to taking charge, providing direction and offering guidance, all of which means a lot of talking.
It’s also hard to find the time, especially in today’s pressure-cooker workplaces. Everyone has at least three other things they could be doing at any given time, and leaders have a stream of people knocking on their doors.
Some people are good at embracing interruption and listening in the moment. Most of us, however, have to work at it.
It is worth the effort.
Listening isn’t just the polite thing to do. It gives leaders information they need to make decisions, whether for their workplaces or for their communities.
And it creates a healthier environment for everyone.