Listen to Lead Change
Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations
picture of the face of a deer with large ears

“The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Bill O’Brien, former CEO of Hanover Insurance, famously said this. It underscores that not only does it matter what leaders do and how they do it, but that their interior condition, the internal place they come from as leaders, is what matters most.

This week I want to offer a perspective on an element of what this interior condition requires of us as leaders.

Otto Scharmer and the folks at the Presencing Institute have developed a practical framework for listening, composed of four levels.

Level One – Downloading

Downloading is a way of listening where you reconfirm what you already know. All of us mostly listen from this level. And you know that you are when you think you already know what the person is going to say. In fact, you could finish their sentence. You might actually finish their sentence or nod appreciatively. Or you might think: “Here we go again” and tune out.

Level Two – Factual Listening

Factual listening is where you listen for what’s new. When you listen from this level, you listen to  confirm or disconfirm what you already know, focusing on facts.

Level Three – Empathic Listening

Empathic listening is where you listen with an open heart. You step into the speaker’s shoes. You’re over there. You let them take you into their experience, which includes facts as well as emotions and values. You enter the other’s world as you listen.

Level Four – Generative listening

When you listen with empathy, sometimes something rare happens. That’s generative listening. You know that you’re in this space of generative listening, when suddenly a sense of possibility emerges between you and the person you’re listening to, a shared knowing that is bigger than either of you.

As leaders we can only create the change that is needed when we shift our listening from only downloading and listening for facts to listening empathically and generatively. When we listen for what is happening “over there” and for the possibilities that are emerging between us and the other, we step beyond the shackles of our own limited thinking and into a future possibility.

Therefore leaders need to cultivate their ability to listen empathically and generatively so as to become able to shift between the levels of listening as needed in any given situation. And leaders need to support those they lead to equally hone their listening skills, in service of collaboration, connection, and the ability to change.

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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