Want to Be a More Effective Leader? Conduct a Listening Tour

Listening

To get valuable input from the get-go, leaders who are moving into a new position should conduct what’s called a listening tour. This lets the person doing the touring hear what’s on the minds of subordinates or team members. It helps a new leader get the lay of the land while also allowing the people they’ll be leading to express their thoughts.

Listening tours can be especially valuable when there’s been a major reorganization or a change in the leadership of a company. But instead of just inviting personnel to sound off, the leader might get more actionable information by asking specific questions that are designed to surface key issues and concerns.

Consider, for example, the questions posed by one CEO when he joined the company:

  • What are the three things you think we have to change?
  • What are the three things that we have to keep?
  • What do you most want me to do?
  • What are you most afraid I might do?

Questions like these can be useful for anyone to ask, from team leader to CEO.

I especially like the last question. When a new leader takes over, subordinates often fear what this person might change. Such fears can feed the rumor mill, but the leader usually remains oblivious about them. By asking the question “What are you most afraid I might do?” the leader both acknowledges such fears and gives people the opportunity to express them.

Note, by the way, that the CEO who asks the above four questions submits them in advance. There’s no intention to spring questions on people that they’re not anticipating or to test what they can recall in the moment.

Ideally, the person conducting the listening tour should then organize the information gathered and report back to those interviewed, along with a statement of action to be taken or avoided as a result of the listening tour.

Of course, the very term “listening tour” suggests it’s something done once: Make the rounds, sound out the troops, then move on. But listening is one of the most important leadership skills. Therefore, if you want to be an effective manager or leader, listening should not be one time only or calendar-based. It should be an ongoing activity. And then it’s not a tour; it’s simply the way work is done.

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