Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time. - George W. Bush
Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don't believe is right. - Jane Goodall
When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die. - Lillian Smith
It’s been a phenomenally (translation: staggeringly) busy year for me and for this reason, I haven’t had much to say on my blog this year.
That’s what I tell a lot of people who have been following my musings for years and who ask me why I am not writing much these days.
Well, in the spirit of true confession, I have been extremely busy but that’s not why my writing output has dropped significantly this year.
It’s because I am listening.
One of the things I have been known for for years (according to colleagues) is my ability to own a boardroom. People have told me and others that they have shown up for meetings that I am in just because they wanted to see what I was going to say or do in a meeting, especially the complicated or politically loaded meetings (or to hear my impersonation of Zig Ziglar as I note here In Memory of Zig Ziglar–Building a Legacy).
However, some of those same people, if they didn’t know me well (or at all) have gone to some meetings and were disappointed that I said little if anything.
What disabled my active (sometimes overactive) mouth?
Whenever I meet a group of people for the first time, unless it’s my meeting, I have little to say. I say little (or nothing) because I am listening to what people have to say, how they say it and hopefully, why they say it. My philosophy is that if I don’t know who the participants are, what they have to contribute, how they contribute it and what motivates them, then I will have little of value to offer to either supplement their ideas or to correct them.
It’s a style opposite that which is embraced by many people in this connected world – people who feel that there is a competition to be the first or the loudest but where the competition for who is right or impactful in a positive, meaningful way contains a much smaller field.
Once I understand the dynamics and intentions for the meeting and its participants, then I usually have a lot to say. That’s why people who make trouble for others don’t like it when I go quiet … because I am thinking and they may be the subject of my mental gymnastics. :-)
As my professional world rolls along at its usual hectic pace, I always keep an eye on the “stuff” going on in the world, “stuff” such as:
- The impact of the Syrian situation, both the war and the refugees, and the potential long term impact on world stability.
- The impact (or not) of terrorism in general.
- The concerns over the security of our technology, especially in the areas of protecting our infrastructure from attack.
- The general preparedness of citizens in case trouble should arrive in society from any one of a number of sources.
- The fight over global climate change, the fuss over whose data to use, whether it’s real or not and who is to blame (while few wonder how to survive it).
- The insanity of the US political scene, the raging disconnect between citizens and politicians in general, and the impact on the world as a result.
- The ability for political correctness to sweep over us to the point where we are so delicate and sensitive that a simple “good morning” might offend us (or launch a lawsuit).
- The LGBTQ dialog and the sides who are vehemently for and against it with few caring to understand what is happening as a result of this shift.
- The impact of social media and its ability to actually break down our ability to communicate and be social and respectful to and with each other.
- The conversion of news media into tools of political and corporate manipulation as well as a source of demeaning entertainment.
- General conversations that are driven by emotion and intimidation instead of data, respect and collaboration.
- Why a woman is allowed to abort a baby (even late term) in some places and that is ok and yet in those same places, a person who kills that same pregnant woman is charged with a double homicide (only explainable by the bureaucrats that created this paradox).
- The inevitable accounting that is coming in our global financial system for not doing the right things for decades (or centuries).
- Our inability to be honest about aviation security, financial system security and the like.
The list goes on – my apologies for having left out what matters to you.
Do I have opinions on this stuff?
Of course …. who doesn’t?
But would expressing my opinion change things or make a difference?
I’m not sure and so if I can’t be sure of making a positive impact, then I don’t say anything at all, otherwise I’m just contributing more noise to a very noisy world, a world where more people are talking and fewer are listening (and thinking / acting using appropriate data).
However and more importantly, as a long time Wall St. strategy guy, I know that events and the intention of the people behind those events are guiding us towards something either very good or very bad.
And unless we spend more time observing and listening to those events (and the people behind them), we are less likely to have an opportunity to anticipate where those people and events are taking us, thereby reducing our ability to either amplify a great future or reduce or eliminate a bad one.
The dilemma is that is if you don’t wilfully create a future, then one is created for you.
Are you willing to bet on the notion that a good future can be created by accident?
The Bottom Line
People write a lot about terrorism but it continues to disrupt people’s brains and lives. Meanwhile, we can’t seem to have any dialog around whether it is as big a threat as politicians and the media tell us it is.
People lecture us about the importance of protecting human Life and then take it to prove their point.
We talk about how we are safer than ever from the devastation of war but last year, we set a global record with military spending exceeding $1.7 trillion.
Other people talk about protecting their “minority status” because it is the respectful thing to do and then disrespect others in order to protect their status.
Some people write a lot about how to communicate effectively, respectfully and collaboratively and yet many people are finding it easier to use modern technology to shout others down or intimidate them into not participating in a global dialog.
Politicians lecture us about how they will make a difference and then create careers (with our support) that accomplish little if anything of value to the people they represent (and not even close to what was promised at election time). We get angry and then elect the next generation of politicians who do the same thing.
We look to entertainers to create our opinions on politics, business, economics and the like, ignoring the fact that they know little or nothing about the subject (have you ever been lectured to someone citing The View as their source?).
Even with something as mundane as weight loss, we have so many experts offering us tomes explaining how to live healthier and yet we are not making a dent in our health as obesity and the diseases related to it continue to overwhelm us.
The list goes on.
The reality is that with billions of smart people talking, we are not solving many important things commensurate with the number of opinions being expressed and the cacophony of noise created by the majority of those opinions.
That’s not to say that our world is ugly nor am I saying that we are short of smart people.
In fact, it is a beautiful world, filled with natural and man-made creations that are stunning in their awe-inspiring construct, impact and potential and many brilliant people walk this beautiful earth.
But we can only continue to have a beautiful world if we work harder to keep it that way and we allow the intelligent words of the brilliant to rise above the noise created by the uninformed, the misinformed and the ignorant.
And that’s why I wonder if we need to pause for a moment, listen a little more attentively, think a little more strategically and then take actions that are more intelligently thought out and less of a reflexive kneejerk nature.
What do you think?
Or are you are too busy preparing to tell me that I am wrong.
After all, too many of us listen with intent to reply rather than to learn, to understand and to make a positive impact on the world around us.
Why and how do you listen to others?
Are you sure?
Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to shut up and listen a little bit more.
How about you? :-)
In service and servanthood,
Addendum and a Long Distance Dedication
A kind reader strongly refuted my remarks by sending me a lengthy email with a number of motivational poster shots and quotes from famous people. Unfortunately, he did not add any personal content outside of writing his own subject line. It made me laugh and I felt that I needed to respond with a little fun.
Warning: There is no original content in my response either as I share some of the work by the great folks at Despair.com :-).
Create a great day for yourself and others, because merely having one is too passive an experience!
Planning: Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress.
Preservation: Action will be taken to prevent the next disaster as soon as possible after it has occurred.
Pretension: The downside of being better than everyone else is that people tend to assume your pretentious.
Pride: The art of calling faith in yourself "self esteem" while calling it "conceit" when you see it in others.
Recognition: The more you reward the most trivial of achievements, the more you produce the most trivial of people.
Social Media: If the unexamined Life is not worth living, it's certainly not worth broadcasting online 24 hours a day.