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Listening for Leadership

by Guest Writter
Martin Kettelhut, PhD, Author, Listen Till You Disappear

True leadership is the ability to bring out the best in people and circumstances. Just giving orders is hardly leadership. You need to be able to hear what’s working and what’s not, in order to lead your company to perform at its best. There are three areas to practice listening for leadership: yourself, others and the world.


Shut the door to your office, sit quietly for a moment and practice hearing the difference between your own mind and what’s objectively true about the company. As long as you’re interacting with your own thoughts and feelings – rather than hearing reality as it is – you’ll get no traction in the real world.

Start by listening for purpose and clearing your mind. Meditate, take a walk, or at least a few deep breaths and ask yourself:

What is my purpose as CEO of this company?

Do not simply think about this. Do not answer the question with your mind. The truth lies deeper within yourself. Your job is to guide the company in alignment with the purpose you know intuitively in your gut. If you can’t hear it, you could be leading the company astray – whilst listening to someone else’s intentions, a model that won’t work for your company. Take time every day to check in with yourself and sense whether your decisions and communications align with your intended purpose. Then make choices, communicate and act with purpose.


Use your existing meetings as opportunities to practice mirroring back to others what you hear them say in your own words. Prick up your ears; show you want to understand. At this point, it doesn’t matter what your opinion is about what they say. You can consider what they’ve said later, and get back to them. What matters first is that they experience being heard. After mirroring back what’s been said, ask the people with whom you’re talking if you heard it correctly.

Make time to visit the different levels and departments of the firm yourself. Ask all of these folks what their purpose is here now with this company. You will of course want to weigh these contributions against the board’s concerns; however, you can only maximize the company’s value if you actually hear the company speak. Listen for internal change agents, strategic skill-sets, innovative future leaders.

Donald Philips points out in Lincoln on Leadership that part of what made Abraham Lincoln such an effective president is that he made a point of visiting the various offices of the White House, his generals in the field, and the parents of the soldiers fighting for the country. These first-hand connections gave him a clear sense of his constituents’ real needs, as well as the means for the nation’s growth and security.


What role is your company meant to play in the larger economy? Rather than responding to this question with a wish or hope, and rather than saying what you’re supposed to say or what you feel constrained to say to stakeholders, listen the truth of the matter in the real flow of the economy, and align your resources to fulfill that role. The alternative is never-ending stress.

Maybe your manufacturing company isn’t meant to be the biggest provider of automotive parts on the planet. But instead, the community respects you for training and retaining good people in your own community. Your labor force in turn remains loyal through down times.

Or, perhaps, you are listening to your company as the small-town operation it once was, and thereby wasting precious resources perfecting processes that you can outsource—like the innovative larger company you mean to be.

About the Author

Martin Kettelhut, PhD has co-founded two successful training companies and served as their head coach. He leads seminars and retreats on life-purpose, communication, time structuring, relationships, productivity, and intentionality. Kettelhut’s current interest is how listening is the key to innovation.

Kettelhut’s new book, “Listen Till You Disappear,” educates business and individuals on the best way to improve listening skills and increase productivity. “Listen Till You Disappear” is available via AmazonBarnes & Noble and LuLu.

Learn more about Kettelhut and his book here: http://www.listeningisthekey.com

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