HBR: How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Do you request feedback from your peers and/or managers? What do you do to motivate yourself? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Julie Mosow:

How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Let’s face it: some bosses are not inspiring. They don’t motivate us to perform at our best — let alone improve our skills. What should you do if your boss is too hands-off, ambivalent, or downright demotivating? How can you keep your engagement up and your own professional goals on track? Is it possible to motivate yourself?

What the Experts Say

The good news is that while your boss has a lot of influence over how engaged you are at work, you can put yourself in the driver’s seat. “Employees have more control than they realize over their ability to build and sustain motivation in the workplace,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. There are many factors that influence motivation, but “the most significant one is a sense of progress,” says Monique Valcour, professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, citing Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer’s book, The Progress Principle. “And that comes from the feeling that we are doing work that is meaningful to ourselves, to our colleagues, to the organization, and to the world at large.” Halvorson adds: “Changing your mindset and habits can drive a more fulfilling, more motivated approach to work no matter who your manager is.” Here’s how to motivate yourself when your boss doesn’t.

Understand what makes you tick

If your manager doesn’t motivate you or, even worse, undermines you, it’s important to figure out what drives you personally and professionally. In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer stress that motivation stems from three things: love of the work itself, the desire to receive recognition, and a sense that our work matters and connects us to others. So ask yourself: When was the last time you felt a sense of meaning and purpose at work? What were the conditions that allowed those feelings to flourish?

Set your own goals

Valcour points out that many people feel they’re sprinting in place with no extra time to tackle anything other than their day-to-day responsibilities. However, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture. Make an individual career plan to help you track your projects and results and set goals for your own development. While some of these goals may be directly related to your current role, others may be geared toward learning and exploring areas of interest outside your job description. Even though it’s tempting to set demanding goals for yourself, Halvorson cautions against going overboard. “Although it’s counterintuitive, setting unrealistic or overly ambitious goals can actually be demotivating because there’s so much on the line,” she says. Instead, set goals with smaller milestones so that you can celebrate your progress each step along the way.

Use if-then planning

Once you’ve decided on your goals, Halvorson recommends using “if-then” planning to stay on track or to handle setbacks. “Accepting that challenges are a part of life and being prepared to deal with them is critical to long-term motivation,” she says. For example, if your goal is to finish a presentation, but you find yourself getting distracted by conversations with colleagues, you might say, “If I haven’t finished the presentation by the end of the day on Wednesday, then I will come in early on Thursday to finish up while it’s quiet.” Or you might use if-then planning to move past a low point. For example, “If we don’t receive funding for this project, then I will rewrite the business plan and approach the partners again.” By anticipating obstacles, you’re less likely to get stuck.

Evaluate your own performance and ask for feedback

One way that poor managers undermine motivation is by not giving sufficient feedback. “Seeking feedback is important,” Valcour confirms, “even if we sometimes hear things we’d rather not.” Halvorson believes that most managers are willing to offer feedback if you ask. You might request the feedback directly and in the moment by saying something like, “How did you think the meeting went? Is there anything I might do differently next time?” You might also look to peers for an objective assessment of your performance. Ask people who will be candid with you and whose opinions you trust. Another option is self-evaluation. “We’re more capable than we realize of generating meaningful feedback about our professional accomplishments,” Halvorson says. “Look critically at your own work and ask yourself the same questions you would use to evaluate the work of others. For example, consider if you’re moving fast enough or if the quality of your work is what it should be.”

Expand your internal and external networks

If your manager isn’t motivating you, it’s essential to look for support elsewhere — not only to boost your confidence but also to increase your visibility. Find mentors within your own company to give guidance and perspective, and, if possible, develop an in-house peer group designed to help all of you move forward. You can also seek out and develop external relationships. Valcour is a strong proponent of online networking. “Particularly for people who live far away from their colleagues, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other networking sites provide a sense of connectedness to a larger professional community that might otherwise be difficult to maintain.” Even for someone in a major metropolitan area with many opportunities to connect, online networking is an effective way to stay in touch with colleagues and to keep abreast of industry-wide developments.

Focus on learning

By shifting the focus of your work from performing perfectly to consistently learning and improving, you create the conditions for both heightened motivation and success. “Research suggests that this change in mindset reliably results in better performance,” Halvorsen says. “When it comes to achievement, attitude and persistence are often more important than innate abilities.” Her advice: break the habit of kicking yourself when things don’t go perfectly and replace it by telling yourself that you’ll learn from your mistakes, move on, and do better next time. “No matter your manager’s approach, breaking away from results-oriented thinking is one of the most powerful things you can do to boost your own motivation.”

Principles to Remember


  • Determine your own personal and professional motivators ­— you can’t rely on your boss to get ahead
  • Ask for feedback from your colleagues
  • Build a support system inside ­— and outside ­— your company


  • Set unreachable goals that stall your sense of moving forward ­— keep your goals manageable and celebrate your progress along the way
  • Underestimate the value of self-evaluation — look critically at your own work
  • Dwell on your mistakes ­— it’s more important to keep learning

Case Study #1: Cultivate a supportive, effective network

A vice president of human resources in the financial services industry, Lisa Chang* has had five different bosses during the past two years. The revolving door of managers proved to be very demotivating. So she looked elsewhere for support and decided to create an internal network beyond her team. Lisa developed relationships with three senior women in the organization: a woman who was briefly her supervisor before taking a role elsewhere in the company, another who is a leader in the client group she serves, and the chief human resources officer. “It’s unusual to have such a candid, open relationship with someone so senior, Lisa explains. “The chief human resources officer has given me opportunities at every turn in addition to being someone I can go to for advice.”

Lisa has looked to her peers as well but she feels that these mentorship relationships have been a far more effective way for her to stay motivated. “My peers and I are all in the same boat, so most of them wouldn’t have been a great help to me. By looking to more senior employees at the company, I’ve been able to create the kinds of relationships I might have had if I had been working with a great boss.”

While the lack of consistent, managerial support is not what Lisa would’ve hoped for, the situation has provided Lisa with the opportunity to learn from company leaders she otherwise wouldn’t have met. She says: “I’ve been able to seek feedback, challenge myself through new opportunities, and perform effectively in my role despite the leadership vacuum.”

Case Study #2: Stay focused on your own growth and development

Mark Barnaby* has risen through the ranks at several different investment banks, but with a string of managers who were either completely hands off or overly involved, staying motivated hasn’t always been easy. He coped by staying focused on his own ambitions. “Focusing on my manager’s faults just distracted me from my own goals, so I made it my priority to find ways to help him succeed while learning myself.”

He figured out what his bosses weren’t good at and stepped into the gap. “One of my bosses was a big picture thinker, but her approach wasn’t the right one for our work. I helped her by drilling down into fine points of regulatory policy, providing much needed detail in meetings, and being an in-house resource for her. Doing all of this helped me develop the subject matter expertise I needed to continue to move forward professionally.” Developing and meeting his own objectives kept Mark going even when his bosses didn’t.

Early on, Mark knew his growing interests would serve him well. “There is enormous demand for this kind of knowledge,” he explains. “During the past decade, regulatory policy has emerged as a critical focus of the banking industry.” Even though Mark admits that helping managers who weren’t helping him was frustrating, he acknowledges that it was the right decision for him and for everyone involved to approach each situation with a positive, goal-oriented attitude. He advises, “No matter what, never make an enemy of your boss.”

*not their real names



HBR: How Adobe Structures Feedback Conversations

Are you providing yours directs’ feedback on their performance and opportunities to develop their growth?  Are you having a conversation about expectations? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by David Burkus:

How Adobe Structures Feedback Conversations

Providing employees feedback on their performance and opportunities to develop is one of a manager’s most important tasks. As important as it is, however, it can often get pushed down pretty far on the to-do list. Many leaders face a swarm of pressing deadlines; moreover, feedback conversations can be awkward. Even the preparation for such conversations can make managers feel stressed. It’s easy to fall back on the annual performance review to make sure at least one conversation happens. It’s no wonder many employees report getting no other feedback throughout the year.

But giving regular feedback on performance doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are a few relatively simple formats or templates to help guide the conversation and ensure the discussion is meaningful (and hopefully more frequent than once a year).

One of the best examples I’ve noticed is at Adobe, a company that became notable recently for ditching their performance appraisals and replacing them with informal “check-in” conversations. But, as we’ll see, their framework for a check-in conversation works well for any situation where relevant and valuable feedback is the goal.

For Adobe, a good check-in centers around three elements of discussion: expectations, feedback, and growth and development. When each of these areas have been discussed, then managers and subordinates know they’ve had a meaningful conversation.

  1. Expectations refer to the setting, tracking, and reviewing of clear objectives. In addition, expectations also mean that both parties agree on roles and responsibilities for the objective, and also are aligned in how success will be defined. For Adobe, employees were expected to begin the year with a simple, one-page document outlining the year’s objectives in writing. Regular check-ins became opportunities to monitor progress toward those goals and well as review how relevant they might still be in light of recent events. Regardless of what your own team may start the year understanding, taking the time to regularly review what the goals are, how close individuals are to achieving them, and whether or not those goals need to be changed is a vital step in making sure you arrive at the end of the year (or whatever cycle goals are measured by) with everyone in agreement about how successful a period it has been.
  1. Feedback refers to ongoing, reciprocal coaching on a regular basis. Feedback is the logical next step from a discussion about expectations. Once the goals are clear, and how close to meeting them is established, feedback is how employees learn to improve performance and more quickly achieve their goals. For Adobe, it was important to emphasis the reciprocal nature of feedback. Managers were providing performance feedback but also needed to be open to receiving feedback themselves. Specifically, feedback conversations provided answers to two questions: 1) “What does this person do well that makes them effective?” and 2) “What is one thing, looking forward, they could change or do more of that would make them more effective?”
  1. Growth and Development, the final element, refers to the growth in knowledge, skills, and abilities that would help employees perform better in their current role, but also to making sure that managers understood each of their employees’ long-term goals or career growth and worked to align those goals with current objectives and opportunities. Instead of a simple “year in review” approach, inclusion of growth and development as one element of a “Check-In” ensures that the conversation is centered on future development of employees … not just arriving at a score for the previous period. A vital part of making check-ins successful was not just the forward-looking nature, but also the frequency. If you’re checking-in regularly than it’s much easier for both managers and employees so see progress.

And that final piece might be the key to why check-ins work so well. Researchers Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School and Steve Kramer conducted a multi-year tracking study in which hundreds of knowledge workers were asked to keep a daily diary of activities, emotions, and motivation levels. When they analyzed the results, the pair found that progress was the most important motivator across the board. “On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak,” they wrote of their findings. “On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.” Surprisingly, however, in a separate study of 600 managers, Amabile and Kramer found that managers tended to assume progress was the least potent motivator — citing things like recognition and incentives as stronger motivators.

Looking at the three-elements of a meaningful check-in, it’s easy to see why the system would be more motivating and performance enhancing than the norm. While most performance appraisal systems are backward looking, assigning what is essentially a grade to past performance and spending only minimal time focused on the future, this format centers around highlighting the progress made and the skills and abilities needed to make further progress. Both are mechanisms to provide feedback, but one appears far more motivating.


Perhaps most importantly, the beauty of a check-in conversation is that it doesn’t automatically mean abandoning all of the other mechanisms required by your organization. Well-intentioned managers can start holding check-ins with or without an overhaul to the performance management system being used. At its core, it’s a helpful tool for having a more meaningful conversation… and using it regularly might even make the annual performance review discussion more meaningful as well. If you’re looking for a way to provide more meaningful feedback and better develop the people on your team, talking about these three things (expectations, feedback, growth and development) is a great start.

HBR: How to Speak Up If You See Bias at Work

Does unchecked biased and/or offensive behavior make you uncomfortable at work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Amber Lee Williams.

How to Speak Up If You See Bias at Work

Many people can recall a time when they were exposed to workplace behavior that made them or others uncomfortable. Can you think of a time someone in a meeting joked about another group of people, evoking laughter from everyone else in the room? Or have you worked on a team in which the men seemed to get better projects even though female colleagues were equally or better suited for the work?

And the big question: Did you speak up?

There is no question that objecting to such situations is difficult. The person who decides to raise the issue could damage their relationship with the person making the comments or assigning the work, which could adversely impact the objector’s career opportunities. This is especially true when the comments or behavior aren’t technically illegal. It takes courage to be the one, perhaps the only one, who calls out the behavior as unhelpful to a productive work environment.

So why take the risk? Why not simply ignore the behavior — especially if you’re not the target of it? First, failure to acknowledge and address bias or offensive behavior validates the conduct and may create an impression that the behavior is acceptable, and even to be expected, in the workplace. Moreover, normalizing offensive conduct in this subtle manner tends to have a chilling effect on other potential dissenters, and communicates to those who are offended, regardless of whether they are targets of the behavior, that their perspectives and voices are not valued. Remember that just because people laugh at an offensive joke doesn’t mean they agree with it — or weren’t offended themselves. They might be laughing to cover their discomfort or fit in with the group. In such an environment, employees who are would-be dissenters but are fearful of speaking up may find it difficult to fully engage with their coworkers and leaders and may become less productive.

The bottom line is that patterns of unchecked biased and offensive behavior in the workplace have the potential to erode full employee participation and take a toll on organizational effectiveness.

Given the risks and challenges, how can you draw attention to the bias or offensiveness without putting the other person on the defensive? What are some approaches most likely to limit unintended adverse consequences? There is no one answer or approach that will work for everyone in every situation. Nonetheless, you do have the power to manage how, when, and to whom to raise concerns in ways that will encourage positive change in your environment.

Choose your audience carefully. Sometimes the person you perceive as the offender is not the audience to whom you should address your concerns. If the person making an off-color or offensive joke is a peer or subordinate, it can be effective to directly — but respectfully and privately — address the issue with them. However, in the instance of a person who appears to be assigning work in a discriminatory manner, if the person is a superior or has more power than you do, it may be more prudent to identify a trusted ally in your organization — someone who can provide support, help to identify the right person to speak with about the issue, or maybe even raise the issue on your behalf.

Keep a cool head. Whether you are discussing the issue directly with the person whose conduct is offensive or sharing the situation with an ally, it is important to remain calm. It is not unusual for a person who has observed or been targeted by biased or offensive behavior to feel emotional about the situation. However, sometimes an emotional response to a difficult situation inadvertently shifts the focus of a discussion from problematic behavior to other person’s response to that behavior, which then impedes their ability to address and correct the conduct. It is worth stepping back, working through your emotions, and taking the time to plan what you want to communicate to ensure that the content of your message is not undermined by its delivery.

Create the opportunity for dialogue. You do not have to be provocative or accusatory to raise a concern about discriminatory and offensive conduct. At its core, biased and offensive language and conduct are disrespectful. If the goal is to create a different dynamic, it is counterproductive to attack, demean, and disrespect a person who says or does something offensive. A better approach is to model the behavior you want to see.

For instance, instead of calling someone sexist for giving the plum assignments to the men on the team, you might mention a qualified female colleague who would be an asset to the team. If the supervisor questions the colleague’s qualifications or readiness, point out how participating on the team could further develop her skills, and offer to mentor her.

For the colleague who makes off-color jokes, if you decide to address them directly, you might privately share with the person that their comments make you uncomfortable and suggest the person discontinue the language. If the person asks why you’re uncomfortable, you can share that you do not think it’s appropriate to make jokes at the expense of other groups and that the behavior is offensive and distracting.

Be willing to listen to the other person’s side (e.g., they were only making a joke, you’re being too sensitive, words don’t hurt anyone) — even if you do not agree. Listening to others’ perspectives is essential for creating an environment where all voices are heard and respected.

It takes courage to address biased and offensive language and conduct in the workplace. Relationships and career opportunities potentially hang in the balance. But isn’t it worth it to consider taking the risk in order to achieve full employee engagement and organizational effectiveness?

N2Growth: 10 Ways to Provide Quality Feedback

Are you giving feedback to your employees? Below is a blog post from N2Growth. Giving positive feedback helps drive performance, retain and attract new employees.

10 Ways to Provide Quality Feedback

By Joel Garfinkle

Chair, Executive Coaching, N2Growth

Employees want feedback. They want an honest assessment of their behavior to help them improve their work. They know that if they listen to, and take action on, clear and constructive feedback, their overall performance will improve. And so will their job satisfaction.

However, most managers feel uncomfortable delivering feedback, especially when it involves a problem or concern. So many managers take a passive approach or are guilty of knee-jerk, “drive by” feedback, which can be counterproductive. Providing feedback that gets results isn’t as difficult or painful as you think. Listed below are ten tips to make it a powerful, positive experience.

  1. Be positive. Focus on what the person is doing well when giving feedback (and not just what they can improve upon).
  2. Focus on the behavior, not the person. When discussing a problem with performance, keep your emotions in check. Focus on the actions of the individual, not the person.
  3. Be specific. Provide tangible examples of the behavior in question, not vague, “drive by” criticism like, “You’ve been arguing with customers a lot” or “I’ve been hearing complaints about your attitude”
  4. Be timely. Don’t wait until the employee’s annual performance appraisal to provide positive or negative feedback. The closer feedback is tied to the behavior in question (good or bad) the more powerful it will be.
  5. Make sure you are clear on why you are delivering the feedback. Often, feedback comes from judgment and we don’t want to pass it off as feedback. So, it’s important to pause and think about where the feedback is coming from and how can you deliver it in a way that will be received positively.
  6. Don’t use judgment as a means for feedback. Don’t use feedback as a cover for you to share an actual judgment or be critical of another person. Judgment is just your opinion of a person’s character and isn’t neutral.
  7. Provide feedback from a neutral place. Feedback is really a piece of information or observation you are sharing. Once a person receives the feedback from a neutral space, the person can decide to change or not.
  8. Make it a two-way conversation. Take time to engage the employee and check for understanding. Focus on “partnership,” not “this is what you’re doing wrong” or “this is what you need to change.”
  9. Follow up. If your feedback concerns a problem, look for opportunities to “catch them doing it right.” Reinforce positive behavior.
  10. Make sure you have these three qualities before delivering feedback. Feedback can best be received when you have the authority, credibility and trust already established in the relationship. Without these three things, it makes it more difficult to receive the

I’d love to hear your experiences when providing or receiving feedback. Good or bad, please comment.

Marshall Goldsmith: Turning a Negative into a Positive

Now is the time to set next year’s goals. Marshall Goldsmith talks about making positive change by eliminating destructive comments. Below is a great way to improve your leadership.

Turning a Negative into a PositiveLeaders Can Turn Gray Into Great

“Fining” people for making destructive comments (and giving the money to charity) will help your company and people in need.

by Marshall Goldsmith

I have helped more than 70 major organizations identify and profile desired leadership behaviors. Almost every company I work with wants to encourage collaborative leadership and has in its inventory of desired behavior such things as “effectively builds teamwork,” “develops positive partner relationships with co-workers,” or “creates synergy with other parts of our business.”

One specific item that I encourage my clients to include in their leadership profiles is “avoids destructive comments about other people or groups.” This is a bad and all too common habit!

While we all support the theory of building partnerships across our organizations, our day-to-day behavior can create the opposite result. Let’s face it; we have all stabbed our co-workers in the back in front of other employees at one time or another. And when we bash our colleagues, what message are we sending about our commitment to be their partners?

Failing Your Own Test

I don’t want to sound as if I’m preaching at you. I also get feedback – and like all of my clients, I also try to get better. My best feedback comes from my customers. I was certainly not ranked as one of the “top 10 executive educators,” “top five coaches,” or “most credible thought leaders” by my staff or my family!

(In fact, after reading about one of my awards, my daughter smiled and said: “Daddy, I want to go into your field.” “Kelly,” I replied, “that makes me proud. Why do you want to go into my field?” She laughed and said: “The standards are low!”)

I used to manage a small consulting business. I will never forget the first time I received 360-degree feedback from my own staff. My score on “avoids destructive comments” was in the eighth percentile – meaning that 92% of the world was doing a better job than I. I failed a test that I wrote!

I immediately had one-on-one conversations with each member of our staff. I said: “I feel good about much of my feedback. Here’s one thing that I want to do better – quit making destructive comments. If you ever hear me make another one about a person or group, I’ll pay you $10 each time you bring it to my attention. I’m going to break this bad habit!”

We’re All Human

Then I launched into an emotional pep talk, encouraging them to be honest and diligent in “helping” me. As it turns out, my pep talk wasn’t needed. They tricked me into making nasty comments to pick up the 10 bucks.

By noon of day one I had already lost $50, locked myself in the office, and refused to speak to anyone for the rest of the day. The next day I lost $30. The third day: $10.

Do I still make unnecessary, destructive comments on occasion? Of course, I’m still human. But I know in this area I am better than I used to be. The score I earned on that item the last time I received 360-degree feedback was 4.8 out of a possible 5!

I had moved up to the 96th percentile. What does this prove? Pay a few thousand dollars in fines – and you can get better!

In my executive education courses, my clients are “fined” $2 for each destructive comment they make. These can either be comments made directly to another person, or comments made behind someone’s back. They also may be unnecessary, negative comments about the company, other divisions, or functions (e.g., lawyers, accountants, HR, IT).

The money is all donated to a charity of their choice. How much money have we raised for good causes playing this little game with my clients over the years? More than $300,000!

Think Before You Speak

When I suggest that my clients should avoid destructive comments, I am not saying that they should avoid all negative comments. Companies, teams, and individuals have to get honest feedback so that they can know what to improve and begin to create positive change.

A simple test can help you determine whether the comment that you are about to make is merely negative or is unnecessarily destructive.

Before speaking ask yourself:

Will this comment help our customers?

Will this comment help our company?

Will this comment help the person I am talking to?

Will this comment help the person I am talking about?

If the answers are “no,” “no,” “no,” and “no,” here’s a strategy that doesn’t require a PhD to implement: Keep quiet!

We often confuse honesty with disclosure. We can be totally honest without engaging in destructive disclosure. For example, I may think that my co-worker is a complete idiot. There is no moral, legal, or ethical reason that I have to share this opinion with the rest of the world.

If you want to stop destructive comments in your own organization, institute the $2 rule. The amount of money you collect won’t hurt people very much, negative behavior will be reduced, your office will be more positive, and you may be helping people who need the money more than you do.

(originally published in BusinessWeek)

The Discipline of Listening

Do you know what it takes to be a great listener? I especially like the part about “Keep Yourself Honest.” Below is a blog post from the Harvard Business Review  by Ram Charan.

The Discipline of Listening

As the up-and-coming vice president and CEO candidate for a Fortune 500 technology corporation sat before the CEO for his annual review, he was baffled to discover that the feedback from his peers, customers, direct reports, and particularly from board members placed unusual emphasis on one potentially devastating problem: his listening deficit. This executive was widely considered among the best and brightest in his company, but it was evident that this issue needed immediate attention if he ever hoped to advance to the top spot.

He wasn’t alone in that regard. My knowledge of corporate leaders’ 360-degree feedback indicates that one out of four of them has a listening deficit—the effects of which can paralyze cross-unit collaboration, sink careers, and if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Despite today’s fast-paced business environment, time-starved leaders can master the art of disciplined listening. Conventional advice for better listening is to be emotionally intelligent and available. However, truly good listening requires far more than that. As you move toward truly empathetic listening, consider these tips:

Pan for the nuggets. I saw how Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell, did this. Sitting down with a business unit leader presenting him with information about a $300 million dollar technical investment opportunity, Bossidy divided a sheet of paper about three-quarters across. On the larger left side of the paper, he scribbled detailed notes; on the smaller right side, he occasionally jotted down two or three words, capturing what he perceived to be the key insights and issues being brought to his attention. It was a simple technique that disciplined him to listen intently for the important content and focus follow-up questions on points that really mattered. Whether or not this is your method, you should train yourself to sift for the nuggets in a conversation. Then let the other person know that they were understood by probing, clarifying, or further shaping those thoughts. The benefits of this go beyond ensuring that you heard it right: first, the person on the other end of the conversation will be gratified that you are truly grasping the essence of their thoughts and ideas; second, this gratification will motivate and energize them to create more thoughts and solutions. Listening opens the door to truly connecting and is the gateway to building relationships and capability.

Consider the Source. When working with peers, in and across teams, work to understand each person’s frame of reference—where they are coming from. This is extremely important when disagreements arise. When you truly understand the perspective of others, you are most likely to reach productive solutions; further, all the participants will feel heard, whether their solution is adopted or not. Even better, it’s likely that the solution will not turn out to be one that was brought to the table by any one party; it will be a new approach crafted in the conversational environment you created. Active listening and probing (with humility, not aggression) energizes groups, encourages them to reach consensus, and helps them arrive at new and better solutions.

Consider Ivan Seidenberg, who rose to become Chairman and CEO of Verizon. Earlier in his career, as a business unit manager, he recognized that he must cut costs. But his division’s operations department was adamant it could not be done given the tremendous complexity of its processes. Seidenberg understood their frame of reference, which was that they were in favor of simplification, but couldn’t achieve it without the collaboration of the product departments. Seidenberg got the two sides to collaborate and much better solutions were found. Not only were costs cut, but operations became more focused and simplified.

Prime the Pump. After GE achieved its goal of being first or second in several of its businesses with exceptional margins, then-CEO Jack Welch faced the challenge of how to spur continued growth. He actively listened to a Business Management Course team at GE’s Crotonville learning center. They suggested that, if a GE business had become the biggest fish in its pond, it was thinking about the pond too narrowly. The definition of the market needed to be changed based on an expanded understanding of its customers’ needs. As business unit managers prepared their next round of strategy presentations for the Chairman,Welch told them all to redefine their market in such a way that their share was less than 10 percent. This released GE managers’ energy to grow their businesses with new ideas. One of those ideas was to grow the services businesses across GE. Today, GE has a $200 billion backlog in its services business.

Slow Down. There is a reason that, over the years, you have lost your ability to listen. It feels too passive, like the opposite of action. It’s much faster to move to a decision based on the information you already have. But in doing so, you miss important considerations and sacrifice the opportunity to connect. Understand that as you begin to change your listening style to a more empathetic one, you may often feel inefficient. It takes time to truly hear someone and to replay the essence of their thoughts back them so that both parties are clear on what was said. The payback is dramatic, but it comes over the long run.

Keep Yourself Honest. No habit is broken without discipline, feedback, and practice. As well as installing a personal mirror to reflect on your own behavior, find a colleague to give you honest feedback on how well you are tuning into the thoughts and ideas of your colleagues, managers, board of directors, and others. Explicitly lay out an exercise regime by which you will practice empathetic listening every day and strengthen your skills. Make a habit of asking yourself after interactions whether you understood the essence of what was said to you, the person’s point of view, their context, and their emotion. Also ask yourself whether that person knows that they were heard and understood.

For leaders, listening is a central competence for success. At its core, listening is connecting. Your ability to understand the true spirit of a message as it is intended to be communicated, and demonstrate your understanding, is paramount in forming connections and leading effectively. This is why, in 2010, General Electric—long considered the preeminent company for producing leaders—redefined what it seeks in its leaders. Now it places “listening” among the most desirable traits in potential leaders. Indeed, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelthas said that “humble listening” is among the top four characteristics in leaders.

Truly empathetic listening requires courage—the willingness to let go of the old habits and embrace new ones that may, at first, feel time-consuming and inefficient. But once acquired, these listening habits are the very skills that turn would-be leaders into true ones.

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