Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What are you listening for?

“Of all the leadership skills, listening is the most valuable but probably the least understood,” says Suzanne Ross of the Aerie Company.  “Those who listen only sometimes remain ordinary leaders. The exceptional ones are those who never stop listening. They learn before others about unseen problems and opportunities and that helps them become true market leaders.”

I appreciate Suzanne’s ability to integrate new thoughts and make the strategy + communications + leadership link to elevate performance.

Recently, Suzanne’s newsletter featured an article on Health Literacy, and I asked her if I could share it with my friends, too.
By listening, we help ourselves and our clients stay open to new ideas, often hear what isn’t being said and find ways to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities. Yet like any skill, it takes practice. Last month as we encouraged our network to refine their skills as part of the National Day of Listening, sponsored by oral history project, StoryCorps, we were struck by the feedback our readers had as they shared what they’d learned by being better listeners.

So as we wrap up 2010, there is no better time to consider accomplishments and commit to use those lessons learned to help clients and colleagues continue to demonstrate their value and expand their market presence and leadership.

Here are some of our key insights from this past year.
  1. Have a clear purpose – Everyone has a story that reveals their value, but often companies and individuals struggle with how to weave it together. Simply stated, your purpose is solving a customer problem. Because you’ve been listening, you have a unique understanding of the problem and can show your value in how and why you solve it better than others. Changing the face of chronic disease with medical technologies may seem a grand purpose, but that’s exactly what Medtronic does. From communication with customers to strategic alliances to marketing campaigns to employee communication, it’s clear that the patient is at the center of everything they do. In fact, at employee meetings, people who have been helped by Medtronic devices are featured in video vignettes and live appearances to reinforce help ensure everyone understands how their functions advance the company's purpose.
  2. Be patient – Business tycoon Donald Trump has always preached watch, listen and learn. He knows from experience that you can’t know it all yourself and anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity. So while we are an impatient society, those with the measurable plan who continually listen to customers, colleagues and competitors will be the companies and executives that move forward with better solutions, make quick mid-course corrections and respond more rapidly to opportunities. Consider the uncertainty that still remains around the healthcare reform act. Thankfully for employers, the health, wellness and aging services industries understand how the secret of patience is doing something else in the meanwhile and they have been actively working on more engaging solutions to support millions of new consumers who will have access to the system.
  3. Be persistent – Yes, you need to stay on the radar screen of your target audience, but remember that communication goes in two directions so you need to listen at least as much as you need to talk. Today life demands our participation so in this super connected world, companies and executives can ill afford to be introverts. Be open to how you keep the  lines open with all your various stakeholders from the ones who embrace technology and social media to those who need an integrated marketing campaign to reinforce your unique benefits to those who prefer face to face contact.
You’ve all heard the joke “how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” With a professional violinist and musician advocate sister, I know it takes more than patience and persistence. It requires a combination of talent, communication, focus and a damn good ear – parallel skills for market leaders. Few of us have realized the career visions we had as nine year olds like my sister, but what I know she and other leaders says is that it’s just as much about practicing as it is about listening. And yes, my sister has performed at Carnegie Hall. She’s got a return engagement with her Nashville Symphony in the next year and I’ll be one of her many fans listening closely for new ideas.

What’s your industry equivalent of getting heard at Carnegie Hall? If you need support to help identify, articulate and communicate your value in 2011 and beyond, The Aerie Company is listening. You can follow on Twitter @SuzanneJRoss

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