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Number 1 way to improve your leadership. Listen

The wonderful opportunity to become a member of Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) came my way two years ago. Connecting with this group of likeminded, successful, company founders has been truly transformational.

As part of my EO experience, I gained admittance to the Entrepreneurial Master’s Program (EMP, co-produced by MIT and EO). The educational content here (which stands in stark contrast to my MBA) is distilled, highly relevant, and powerful. The material gets directly applied to my business and life, and brings results. It is not academic; it is raw and valuable.

In the next few blogs, I hope to bring some of these EMP nuggets to you. And in all of my blogs I am going to steer away from academic precision and the worm hole of completely illuminating a topic in favor of bringing value in a potent package, just like EO has done for me.

Gerald Bell was one of the first speakers we heard from. He runs a leadership institute. I can’t tell you much about that institute, but I can tell you that Gerald taught me something simple and profound (my favorite kind of learning).

If you want to be a better leader, listen. That’s it. Listen to lead better.

There are, at least, two aspects to this: brain waves and getting people to speak to the truth.

I am no expert on brain waves; Dr. Bell holds that qualification. He explains that Beta waves are our everyday – marginally productive – thought processes, the borderline insane self-chatter that happens all the time as we walk through life knocking down our to-dos. They offer alertness and the ability to change from thought to thought. This is where our minds spend the majority of their waking time. The downsides to Beta? Bad decisions, distraction, high stress, and poor sleep. This is where you read a paragraph and forget it immediately. Beta works, obviously, but think Subaru, not Ferrari.

Alpha waves are slower and come when we are truly relaxed, or when we are in the zone. Remember that last sick powder run, the one you, oddly, don’t actually remember that well? This is the place we can think in our clearest and most creative manner. Have great thoughts in the shower? Alpha. Alpha is about ten percent of our waking brain activity. It’s the mental Ferrari, where we execute excellent problem solving, find new ideas, and tap into our deepest creativity. This is also where body performs properly, we breath, we relax, we relax our neck and jaw.

So that’s Beta and Alpha.

All this brain wave primer is to simply to tell you this: listening promotes Alpha! Yes, listening is an immediately accessible venue to get to Alpha, our highest performance brain state. Got a rambling employee? Great, listen! It is good for you. It is your little meditation right in the middle of the day. Listen for every single word, and repeat back exactly what they said. Don’t finish their sentence, even when you know what they are trying to say. Just listen, deeply, like a four-year-old sitting four feet from a television.

Soak it all in, like a sponge!

Why? Well, it is going to help you get to the place where you actually understand deeply and can respond to what they are telling you (because you’ll get to Alpha) and, just as importantly, the speaker is going to get closer to you.

Mr. Bell contends there are three levels of truth to each of us:

  • Surface truth
  • Beginning self-truth
  • Core truth

 
When we listen deeply, and echo the words of the messenger back to them, they feel understood and trusted. Only here can they speak from their core. These are the rich conversations that create alignment and understanding for any organization. Just like Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

So, want to lead better? Slow down and listen, then move your relationships, team, and company forward with an improved state of mind.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this quote from Dr. Bell: “The open door policy is a flunker of human existence. It is just as big a lie as multitasking.” While we must openly communicate with our teams, we can’t do it at just any time. Schedule your interactions and protect key blocks of time to advance the most critical items for your business. And you will be a better leader.