Leadership through Eyes of a Coach...Alan Booth

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I was fortunate to have met Jim Young, Chairman and CEO of Union Pacific Corporation, in December where he spoke to the Greenwich Leadership Forum. "The most important lesson I have learned is how to effectively listen - and learned the hard way during the chlorine tank explosion in Louisiana, during our last recession when we needed to rethink our whole model of business and during union negotiations."

Listening skills are the foundation to building trust, creating a culture of innovation and increasing productivity; not to mention better customer loyalty by acting on their feedback. Jim actually makes sure that everyone of his 45,000 employees have his email address!

Then comes along Teresa Taylor, COO at Qwest who says she could not believe it when she heard from people that she was a not a good listener. Her lesson learned ? "Biting my lip, slowing down and then really focusing on what people were saying." [New York Times, Corner Office, 12/27/09]

Doing that better, she learned the technique of listening for better interviewing - by observing candidates over dinner; how they interact with service staff and their decision making when ordering -not to mention the value of a more relaxed environment.

The bottom line: really effective listening is hard to achieve because it involves unlearning behaviors such as impatience, making assumptions about what people are saying (or interpreting their body language and tone). The goal might be re-framed to learning "intuitiveness"; collecting enough dots to connect accurately.

The goal: creating genuine open-mindedness that causes others to offer more of their talent. Without that people get defensive and hold back their best ideas.