McKinsey Quarterly has an interview of Amgen CEO Kevin Sharea (Why I’m a listener: Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer) where he emphasizes the importance of listening for leaders. We have talked about listening a couple of times in the past (here and here).
He says that the best way to listen is to do so with just one objective – comprehension. It is important not to be focused on criticism or arguments for or against what the other person is saying.
““Because I learned to listen.” And I thought, “That’s pretty amazing.” He also said, “I learned to listen by having only one objective: comprehension. I was only trying to understand what the person was trying to convey to me. I wasn’t listening to critique or object or convince.””
Listening for comprehension can also help demonstrate respect and teach your team to be flexible by example. It builds and environment of trust, partnership and teamwork.
Listening for comprehension helps you get that information, of course, but it’s more than that: it’s also the greatest sign of respect you can give someone. So I shifted, by necessity, to try to become more relaxed in what I was doing and just to be more patient and open to new ideas. And as I started focusing on comprehension, I found that my bandwidth for listening increased in a very meaningful way.
Listening can help leaders immerse themselves in the organization and gather the right information, generate new connections and spark creativity / innovation. Leaders need to talk with different people – not just their direct reports because useful pieces of information reside in different places.
My method of gathering the tiles involves regularly visiting with, and listening to, people in the company who don’t necessarily report to me. I also read as much as I possibly can: surveys, operating data, analyst reports, regulatory reports, outside analyses, and so on. I meet with our top ten investors twice a year to listen, and at shareholder conferences I consider the Q&As very important. The key is making yourself open to the possibility that information can and will come from almost anywhere.