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Why Listening is Critical to a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Posted by Allan Wilson

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Jun 19, 2014 3:00:00 PM

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The Greek philosopher Epictetus is reputed to have said,

“You have two ears and one mouth - use them proportionately.”  

Whether he actually said this or not, the message still rings true: listen more than you talk.

Early in my career, I witnessed the change in behavior in younger people when they were promoted to leadership positions in their jobs. It was as if they somehow lost the very skills that management had seen in them that caused them to be promoted in the first place. They suddenly became different people, barking out orders or taking an air of superiority.  The promotion had gone to their heads because they were ill prepared for what it meant to be a leader.

Proactively Engage

An important element of leadership is the ability to unite and stimulate a team by proactively asking for opinion of each team member given a particular business challenge. Listen and process their input, ask further questions, and challenge assumptions. These techniques allow for the best plan to emerge.  Using your ears more than your mouth is critical to creating and sustaining a culture of continuous improvement; after all, your team as a whole is stronger than the collective sum of its parts. Don't let their ideas be a wasted resource.

Enable Team Participation

By enabling your team to participate in strategy development when solving problems or identifying opportunities for improvement, you create a culture in which they feel ownership of the continous improvement efforts and be invested in the success of your plans. They will have a shared responsibility in the outcome; if the plan succeeds, the team will have achieved the success together, and if it fails, there will be no scapegoat.  Either way, the team will learn something, and be better prepared for the next challenge.

Become a Better Leader

Listening intently to input from the team and others outside the core team will enable the leader to be better at:

  1. Identifying opportunities for continuous improvement in business processes
  2. Looking for ways to continuously improve the performance of the team
  3. Identifying core team members that need more mentoring or coaching to enable and empower them to continuously improve their individual performance
  4. Continuously improve your leadership skills and be a better leader, based on feedback from the team

 Epictetus was right; listen more, and you will be a better leader.

Blog Series: 6 Key Leadership Behaviors that Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement

This post is the third in a seven part blog series. Be sure to sign up to receive posts via email so that you don't miss the rest of the series (or any of our other posts)!

Read the next post in this series

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25 Leadership Behaviors That Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement

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Topics: Leadership

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