Ask 'em!

Don’t remember where I was among the many stops during my just completed mega-trip. But I do remember the exchange, more or less. It went like this:

Exec: “But Tom, how do we find out what it is that people really want?”
Tom (after a long pause and a lot of thought—and I’m not kidding): “Ask ’em.”

Listening Is an Act of Love book coverOf course I acknowledged that it’s not so easy as that. If you are a close-to-the-vest sort, folks will wonder what your true agenda is—or what seminar you’re just back from. So you’ll just have to practice and be persistent. (And actually care about what you hear!) I recalled this little exchange when, last night at Georgetown’s Barnes & Noble, I happened across Listening Is An Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, by Dave Isay.

Isay, MacArthur Fellowship winner among many other things, started StoryCorps in 2003. Guiding principles are:

  • “Our stories—the stories of everyday people—are as interesting and important as the celebrity stories we are bombarded with …
  • “If we take the time to listen, we’ll find wisdom, wonder and poetry in the lives and stories of the people all around us.
  • “We all want to know our lives have mattered …
  • “Listening is an act of love.”

I probably bought the book because I randomly opened it at page 60, a 5-pager titled “Ken Kobus, 58, tells his friend Ron Baraff, 42, about making steel.” It was wonderful, in the truest—filled with wonder—sense of that wonderful, if overused, word. (An equally compelling 2-pager on Samuel Black, a Cincinnati public school teacher, followed. Etc.)

I loved the stories—and truly loved the “Listening is an act of love” idea. To “get” the idea, I think you must truly ponder the meaning of “love” as used here. Listening is probably-doubtless the premier “act of love.” True for the husband or wife or preacher or doctor*—and, I’d contend, equally true for the IS project leader heading a 6-person team. (*Docs are notoriously lousy listeners, but that’s another day’s comment.) In fact it seems to me that “listening is the ultimate leadership skill” (“listening with love”?) is an idea, and a practical idea at that, well worth pondering—and operationalizing.

As I say all this, I am of course mostly parroting Matthew Kelly, author of The Dream Manager and our recent Cool Friend. He contends that we are all driven by our dreams, and if leaders make a “strategic” commitment to discovering the dreams of their followers, and then provide opportunities to pursue those dreams (shape the organization’s culture around the pursuit of those dreams), “organizational effectiveness” and “customer satisfaction” will vault to the top of the league tables.

So: the Six Big Words I take from the above are:


I’ll say more later, but for now, write the Six Words on a 3X5 card, stick it in your pocket, read it before—and after—your next meeting or phone call or even email, and ponder it.

Lemme know if it makes sense-works.