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Listen, Learn and Lead

I was sitting in the pew on Sunday, and the priest, newly appointed to the parish, said he believed in applying the three Ls when finding oneself in a new leadership role: listen, learn and lead.

The more I thought about his comments, the more insightful they seemed for virtually every type of leadership role. His characteristics seemed to apply even to people who might not consider themselves to be in a leadership position. As I write this, the HARDI conference is gradually approaching, and an array of the best and brightest wholesalers will gather in Orlando, giving everyone a terrific opportunity to reinforce the three Ls when they return. Certainly, they’ll have plenty of time to listen to a plethora of experts and topics that are important to them, and hopefully they’ll arm themselves with new information they can impart to fellow employees when they return.

For that first post-HARDI conference meeting in your office, ask whether your staff is following the three Ls. And it doesn’t even have to be the three Ls (though how can you go wrong?). It can be whatever quote, cliché or bromide appeals to you. We all have a favorite quote that seems to sum up much of either what we believe or how we operate. After all, if you believe in it or at least find some resonance with the phrase, you’re more apt to follow what it suggests.

Sometimes we can become infatuated with a simple phrase or cliché that rolls off our tongues because, frankly, it’s easy. But there is merit in this simplicity or it wouldn’t persist. (I confess to applying Occam’s Razor to some of my deliberations. When things become too muddled to make a clear decision, I choose the simplest one. It helps prevent insomnia.)

In that vein, consider:

Most of us don’t listen well. Yes, we read books about it, we might even watch a video or hire Steve Coscia (my numero uno favorite customer service expert) to come in and tell us what we already know. I’m certainly too voluble to be a good listener. So here’s a suggestion for myself and anyone who resembles me: PAUSE. Just before you speak, pause for one second to determine whether the speaker is actually done before you dive in with your own thoughts. And here’s the best part: Don’t just listen for the sake of civility. Try to actually consider the merits of the speaker’s comments.

Learn what? I have a deficit in one specific area of my professional career that is bothering me. (No, it’s not math, and no, I’m not going to reveal it in this column.) I’m not completely ignorant in the area and can almost “pass” regarding a display of knowledge, but I’m still uncomfortable because I feel that I should know more. Take a course, private instruction or sign up for lessons via the Internet (and Internet learning is 24/7). Today, there simply is no excuse for not correcting virtually any knowledge deficit. All you need are time and commitment. You can gain time by cutting out one TV show. So just make the commitment and, as professional speaker Larry Winget would probably say:

“Quit your whining.”

I would submit that for wholesalers, not only might it be important to learn some new aspect of the business, but even more benefit might be derived by suggesting to valuable employees that they beef up a part of their intellectual capital. If they started in the warehouse, and you sense management potential, possibly teaching someone how to read a balance sheet would be a good move.

Lead. This is the tough one because it’s so subjective. Some people thought General George Patton was a great leader; others might classify him as a bully. You don’t have to hire an MIT professor on leadership to give this idea life. Act in a fashion precisely the way you would want them to behave. As an owner, executive or manager, YOU set the tone and direction for the workplace every day. Be fair (the most fundamental requirement of all), listen, learn about the issue at hand and then make a decision. Just be sure, when you finally make the call, to explain it in a reasoned manner.

Will this satisfy everyone? Probably not, because it never does. But it will establish for most people inside and outside the distributorship that you’re listening to them, learning something about their problems and are not afraid to make a decision.

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