Listening to Your Employees May Be the Secret to Leadership Success

by Eric Daly, M.A., GPHR

Bulletin,  HR Expertise and Support,  Leadership,  Organizational Development

A recent Gallup survey showed that seven out of eight employees don’t feel that their employers care for them. That’s more than a depressing statistic. It’s an alarm bell for leaders who want to build successful and productive organizations.

You’ve probably heard someone you know say, “It’s not personal; it’s business!” It’s a convenient phrase we use to excuse putting economic goals ahead of human goals and of putting profit first and people last.

The reality is that business decisions affect people’s lives. Relationships at work affect people’s lives. Because chronic stress can lead to chronic disease, your supervisor may have more impact on your health than your doctor.

So what’s getting in the way of leaders treating their employees better?

Bob Chapman and the privilege of leading

When Bob Chapman, author of Everybody Matters and chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, a capital equipment and engineering solutions firm, came into the role at the age of 30, his focus was on being financially successful. He soon came to believe that something was missing…the human element. That belief lead to a fully new approach, called Truly Human Leadership, that is based on building trust through caring for the people you are entrusted to lead.

Why does trust matter? It’s because high trust actually makes good business sense. When trust exists, you multiply the potential of your employees exponentially. Innovation goes up, and productivity increases.

Chapman wanted to make sure employees were compensated for their time and talent with more than just a paycheck. He wanted to create a workplace where employees could grow and learn and feel like they mattered.

As a result, leaders at Barry-Wehmiller are trained to have the skill and the courage to care for the people they have the privilege of leading. They learn that people and profit must work in harmony, not at the expense of one or the other. And training those leaders to care about their employees is at the heart of it all.

The results? The company has grown exponentially and, with a combination of more than 90 companies around the world, is now worth more than $2 billion.

It starts with an attitude of caring about others

The good news is that the affliction of “Leadership Malpractice,” as Bob Chapman calls it, can be cured easily and with tools totally in our control. Bob says, “care about the employees you are privileged to lead as if they were your or someone else’s precious child,” which they are, of course. When we start with this mindset, the people we lead take on a very different look, and it changes the focus of the decisions we make as leaders.

Show caring by listening

Well-known peace negotiator Bill Ury likes to say, “We have lots of talk shows but no listening shows, and lots of peace talks but no peace.” Very few people in leadership roles receive training on how to be a good listener, and it shows. Take another look at the number of employees who feel their employer doesn’t care about them. Listening is something that we do all the time, and therefore it is so easy to take for granted. Why is listening so hard then?  For one, we are constantly bombarded with information that is often overwhelming, and it is easy to zone out. Also, much of the time, the problem is that we are not showing someone that we are listening in how we respond to them. The term “active listening” is often used to remind leaders to make listening a more conscious and deliberate behavior.

Listening builds trust

Listening actively is at the root of building cultures of respect and trust. High-trust cultures accomplish more faster because people anticipate others’ needs and complete them without having to be asked. When people trust each other, they extend the benefit of the doubt more readily, which opens communication lines, mitigates conflict, and helps people be more receptive to differences. Trust ultimately is the oil that keeps the organizational engine running smooth and steady.

In these times of great uncertainty and unyielding transition, perhaps not all the rules have changed. Relying on basic human values and behaviors of caring, listening, and building trust to help people feel valued can be at the core of assisting leaders in navigating troubled waters for financial and human success. We can look to organizational examples like Barry-Wehmiller to see that some doses of common sense can yet again prevail.

About the author
Eric Daly, M.A., GPHR