Listen, don't just consult

22nd September 2006 at 01:00
Have you ever tried to tell a joke to a D-list comedian? I have. In the company of a club comic - that's Wheeltappers and Shunters rather than Jongleurs - and, emboldened by drink (how many disasters have started with that phrase?) , I began to tell him one of my late dad's Yorkshire miners'


Well, let me tell you, "lead balloon" hardly covers it. He stared at me and carried on as if nothing had happened.

At that point I realised that, for him, simply by owning a joke, let alone telling one, I represented competition.

The desire to rule the arena of discourse, whatever it is, and to stifle competition is more common than we might think. Were you ever, for example, in a gathering where you felt impatient for the current speaker to finish?

Did you lean forward, fidgeting, uttering urgent little grunts and generally waiting impatiently for an opportunity to get into the act?

If it is like that among friends and colleagues, consider what it is like when the leader suffers from the same non-listening syndrome. What you get then is something like this, from the "Listening Leadership" website: "If I, or anyone else, says something, he simply says our name over and over until we shut up and let him talk."

Have you been at that meeting? Of course you have. It's demeaning, debilitating and, in the end, is going to stifle the flow of ideas. The listening has to be genuine, of course, and not a going-through-the-motions "consultation". The daddy of all management gurus, Peter Drucker, wrote 40 years ago of "consistently listening with genuine curiosity".

Developing the idea of "curiosity", Drucker pointed out that the effective leader actively seeks views contrary to his or her own, and finds the reasons for them.

The contributor of the "listening leadership" story, quoted earlier, goes on to make the clinching argument for being a listening leader. "The most knowledgeable people in our company are the employees. When our leader won't let any of us finish a sentence, I wonder who he believes he is leading."

Apply this to schools and it rings true as a bell.

The head who does not listen to teachers, who believes that his or her hard won expertise must automatically be worth more than the daily refreshed experience of people directly engaged in the classroom, is surely on the road to self delusion. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, HarperCollins 1966

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