Listen for the Sound of Your Own Success

Guest post from Scott Weiss:

Leading an open and collaborative corporate culture can be a tough job. Essentially, you must learn to be a “safety engineer.” Safety engineering simply assures that a critical system behaves as needed, even when components fail. Think of that “critical system” as your company, and those “components” as your employees. If one employee fails, the entire company should not crumble, especially if you have incorporated core values in the system.

Trust seems to be the common denominator in open-culture organizations. In order for trust to be ingrained as a core dynamic, leaders must also learn how to extend it. Because trust is a two-way street, you must first prove that you are worthy of trust. In order to truly empower our teams to release their creative potential or find true enthusiasm for their work, we must learn to trust them and create a genuine partnership. After all, that’s why we hired them in the first place.

After ingraining trust in your employees, there are three key practices leaders must follow in order to create the open and collaborative culture for which they are striving.

Expect the best
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Eisenhower hit the nail on the head. The key to getting things done starts with trusting your employees by setting high expectations. Each person will either rise to the occasion or fail to meet our expectations, but when we expect the best we are more likely to get positive results. I’ve heard this presumptive attitude called “positive intent,” which I believe is invaluable, especially when working with a cross-generational and multi-cultural workforce. Trust should always be an extension of everything we do. I believe as leaders we must reserve judgment on generational or cultural differences in language, customs or communication and work styles, in order to keep employees open to learning.

Model Authentic Conversations
In this day and age, it is overwhelmingly difficult to carry on a conversation with people, especially millennials. With social media at its peak (including texting, instant messaging, posting on Facebook and emailing) conversations have turned into fragments, are no longer grammatically correct, and come with plenty of syntax errors. As face-to-face conversations are becoming less and less common in the workplace, I believe conversation is becoming a dying art. Just like any other art, it is worth practicing and preserving.

Of course, in our personal relationships we know how to communicate, and we want to know the other person deeply. But when it comes to corporate America, people face time constraints, agendas and goals. In many leaders’ eyes, in order to get something we want, we must control the situation.

Audiences can sense when leaders are trying to control the situation and warrant a specific, robotic response. When listeners feel like objects of a conversation rather than participants, they become defensive, put up barriers, and sometimes even ignore what we say, for good reason.

Since conversation is an art, there is always room for improvement. Due to the high demands of our daily workload, it is impossible to have face-to-face conversations with everyone. There will always be large presentations, company-wide memos and conference calls, but creating more authentic, genuine conversations along the way will show through to your audiences, ultimately building trust within the communications for which you are responsible.

Learn to Listen
The average person really only listens about 25 percent of the time. Active listening requires our FULL attention – our eyes, ears and hearts must be invested in order to participate in a true conversation. Although we all believe we are excellent listeners, many people start formulating a response after just the first half of a sentence, likely listening for the next short lull in the conversation to speak again. Improving our listening skills is a self-development process that can have a tremendous effect on our day-to-day conversations. Listed below are key skills for becoming an active listener.

1. Attend fully: Maintain eye contact. Don’t fail to listen because you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next. Assume positive intent. Avoid prejudging. Keep an open mind.

2. Restate and paraphrase: Ask questions for clarification; restate or paraphrase the speaker’s point to make sure that you didn’t misunderstand.

3. Interpret and confirm: Respond to the message by offering a tentative interpretation of the speaker’s feelings, desires, or meanings.

4. Allow for space and silence: Don’t panic in the pauses or be tempted to fill them with glib, easy sound bites. Listening demands space in a communication exchange. It requires giving each of you time to think as well as to talk. Confident, self-reflective leaders aren’t afraid to say, “You know, I’m not sure about what you are suggesting. Let me process this for a day or two and get back to you.”

Use these active listening skills not only in one-on-one conversations, but in all types of communication, including large presentations, conference calls and group or team meetings. This will create more effective, more meaningful, more collaborative and less contentious exchanges, ultimately producing authentic conversation.  

Safety Engineering
Those who want to lead an open and collaborative corporate culture are obligated to become their organization’s safety engineers. I dare you to establish organization priorities of extending trust to each individual and establishing safety throughout. Try this: value the art of conversation. Make it a point to actively listen in every environment and develop a skill you want to model for those around you.  I dare you to risk your unmasked self in corporate conversations and model simplicity and sincerity for others.

About Scott
Scott Weiss, author of, “DARE”, and CEO of Speakeasy, Inc., has one wish: for you to be the most authentic leader you can be. Through his work at Speakeasy, Scott has helped the leaders of some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Coca-Cola, Accenture and Wells Fargo, become more authentic communicators. Scott is also a professional speaker and blogger. Find out more by visiting, and follow Scott’s DARE updates on Twitter @DAREthebook.