Leading Through Listening: What Business Leaders Can Learn from a 3-Star GeneralJanuary 26, 2018 | By Wayne O'Neill
One of the most powerful and effective leadership concepts I’ve learned recently didn’t come from the business world.
It came from the U.S. Air Force.
In fact, it was inspired by my cousin, a retired 3-star general.
He explained to me that the best of the best military leaders — the ones you see being interviewed on TV — are actually some of the closest leaders to the troops on the front lines.
The military is evolving before our eyes, and these top-notch leaders are keeping their finger on the pulse of what’s happening. Not by delegating knowledge-gathering to underlings, but by getting down in the trenches with their soldiers.
Most importantly, these leaders are listening to what’s happening down there on the ground.
In a business context, listening to the people who are interacting with your clients — particularly if they are technical and/or of another generation — will help you sustainably connect with your clients.
There are three specific things we can learn from this military metaphor …
1. Spend Time on the Front Line
How much time are you spending with your “troops?”
How much time are you spending on client sites?
The people on your team who interact with your clients every day are the best people to gain insight from, and help you connect with your clients for better long-term relationships. Especially if those team members are technical or of a younger generation — they’re going to give you a point of view you could not otherwise obtain
2. Listen and Observe
Spend time listening to these front-line team members. They’re observing client behavior from a totally different standpoint than you are, and their perspective could be hugely beneficial to you.
Not only does this give you useful insight about the client and their relationship with your firm, but it also helps you build better connections with your team members and your clients.
3. See What Your Troops See
Ask your front-line team members about their experiences. What are they seeing that you might not see? How do they see client behavior evolving over time?
There is always new information hiding in plain sight, but that doesn’t mean you have the same access to that information that your team does. They see your clients day in and day. Your front-line employees have night-vision goggles — and you might only have reading glasses.
The Bottom Line
I’m not telling you that you don’t know your clients. I am telling you that your front-line team members know your clients differently than you do — and that insight is incredibly valuable.
Spend more time with your boots on the ground with your client-facing staff — especially technical staff and the younger generation. And spend extra time listening to them. This diversity of insight grows stronger, longer-lasting connections.
When your leadership shifts from being all about you to including your extended team in real, tangible ways, it leads to more sustainable growth and profitability.