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Time to Quit the Rat Race?

John McKee

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1. Most leaders die with their mouths open.

I recently read an article in Fast Company magazine about the issue of leadership. In it, they quote Ronald Heifetz, the founder of Harvard's Center for Public Leadership, who made the above comment back in 1999. He followed it up by saying, “leaders must know how to listen - and the art of listening is more subtle than most people think it is. But first and just as important, leaders must want to listen. "

You'd think this is simply basic stuff, right? Like what all managers learned in Management 101. I doubt there's an exec in business today who wouldn't say they ‘know’ this already. But in my experience, most leaders seem to think it no longer applies to them when they start moving up the ladder. They seem to get to the stage where they think they really know it all.

But yet, executives and professionals at all levels frequently tell me that they themselves don't feel ‘heard’ by their superiors. And here's the really interesting thing about it - I hear this frustration cited by people at every management level! Therefore, managers throughout many businesses are busy looking ‘up’ the organization chart for someone to listen to them - but they're not giving their own managers and the staff ‘below’ them the same benefit.

So you have managers going around telling subordinates what to do & how to do it; rarely asking those people for their input. And then being cranky because their boss treats them the same way! How dumb is that?

2. Our North American companies are pretty inefficient

OK - this is a random poll: Please raise your arm if you believe your company is efficient. At least 90% efficient.

Based upon what I hear from clients, there aren't many arms raised out there. In fact, most tell me that their own organizations are actually inefficient. Many are concerned that their employer is getting less competitive on a global scale. Some worry about cutbacks or reduced investment spending which may result.

At the same time, they'll tell me that they are bored, unchallenged, stale, and losing interest. So, let's review.

Inefficient businesses:

- no one is listening to those who are close to the real


- stale managers who are worried about global


Coincidence? Not likely. We can fix this situation, though. And it's not that hard.

Remind yourself about that lesson of Management 101. Become a better leader by becoming a better listener. Simply start asking - and here I mean showing that you really want to hear your team members’ ideas about making your department / organization more efficient. Make it clear that you are on a new mission and you want to make ‘listening’ a priority. When your direct reports start to believe that you are serious - watch out.

I guarantee that you'll start to hear new ideas which will kick-start your organization's success. With that will come renewed enthusiasm for the job. And the cycle of success will build from there.

You don't need to die with your mouth open.

3. Today's Tips

1. Give your team credit for having the same basic needs and

expectations as you have yourself.

2. Once in a while - just shut up.

3. Ask your subordinates how they'd deal with a problem or


4. Get enthusiastic about the game again. It's contagious.

A Certified business and executive coach with 30 years experience including executive suites and boardrooms across North America, John has unique insights and expert skills for dealing with the challenges and opportunities facing business people and professionals. His consultancy, is a reflection of his desire to share what he has observed, learned and practiced in organizations ranging in size from start-ups to billion dollar corporations with thousands of employees. He is a frequent expert guest on TV and radio programs.


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