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Lean Leadership: Listening & Humility

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Tue Dec 03 2013

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\[From KSMartin.com\]—The holiday season is my favorite time of year for two reasons: the holidays themselves and business planning. Proper business planning requires significant reflection, an activity that Lean Leaders embrace and do regularly and less effective leaders often skip.

While I continually reflect during the year, it’s more intentional and formalized in the last quarter. I spend significant chunks of time reflecting on what’s working and what’s not, what I want to do more of and less of, how I want to grow the business in terms of people and products, which services I want to discontinue offering, etc. The result of all this reflecting is a hoshin plan (a work plan) for the coming year that provides clear direction about the target conditions we aim to achieve and the work priorities for achieving them. (You can use hoshin planning to achieve personal goals as well; I wrote about this earlier this year.)

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While much has been written about the technical aspects of hoshin planning (also called strategy deployment), there are two key success factors that haven’t captured as much air time: listening and humility. It’s difficult to create an effective plan that gets you from Point A to Point B if you fail to listen deeply or operate with a hubris-filled heart and mind.

Let’s begin with listening. For many people, this is the skill that needs the greatest development. Listening deeply is hard work. It requires that you first recognize and then set aside the biases, beliefs, prejudices, and paradigms that you carry. It requires that you set aside what you think and feel and instead gain clarity about what the other person thinks and feels. It requires that you be 100% in the moment.

Hearing and listening are remarkably different activities that produce remarkably different outcomes. Lean leaders listen. A lot. How can you tell the difference? By paying attention to what a leader says immediately after someone has spoken. Do they ask clarifying questions—especially those that begin with why, what, where, when, and how? With complex topics, do they repeat back what they think the person said to confirm understanding? Do they express empathy: \["I understand why you see things (or feel) that way."\]—and really mean it? Leaders who are hearing but not listening will respond with defensiveness, opinions, proclamations, and so on.

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