Leaders who don’t listen do more than reveal their hubris. They deny the organization access to a vital source of valuable insight that can make a positive difference. As Dan Gardner points out in his recent article,(http://digital.vancouversun.com/epaper/viewer.aspx), key information is often widely distributed across the people in organizations.
The collective judgement of the whole trumps the knowledge capital of one person or a small group at the top. Leaders who fail to mine this rich vein of insight do so at the company’s peril. They also demonstrate the lack of balance in their approach to leadership.
The failure to tap into the collective insights spread throughout an organization suggests that the negative or shadow side of the fear-based world has taken root. When the bosses close ranks and ignore the views of the subordinates – as Gardner puts it – “organizations shaped like pyramids with a pharaoh at the top” – their fear of conceding that they may not have all the answers is matched only by their myopic lack of humility. In archetypal terms, this excessively fear-based approach is not so much leadership as it is dictatorship and cowardice. It takes courage and vulnerability to listen to those being led, not simply as a “nice” thing to do, but as a valuable practise that can yield fresh ideas and new opportunities.
Balanced Leadership uses the power of archetypal symbols to inject energy into leadership and understand situations on a deeper level. The symbol for chronic non-listening in the workplace is the Tyrant. The Tyrant’s operating assumption is that the leader of an elite group holds all the important knowledge, so why bother listening to others? The positive opposite of the Tyrant is described symbolically as the Warrior King, wherein the operating assumption is that the leader’s role includes service to others. The leadership service the Warrior King provides is listening to the perspectives of all those affected by the decision.
Another archetype that is involved in listening is the Mother Goddess. This archetype recognizes that when people feel heard – a form of being received – they have a greater sense of belonging which in turn leads to increased work satisfaction. People develop individually and greatly increase the creative energy of the environment. Balanced Leadership illuminates these archetypes and the roles they play in the culture and effectiveness of organizations. The leader’s attitude towards listening represents a form of archetypal energy that either helps or hinders.
When it comes to positive examples of listening in organizations, Gardner points to private and public organizations – like Google and the US Navy – who have tapped into the collective wisdom of the group with great success. It doesn’t mean that every opinion from the shop floor is necessarily wise and useful, but the evidence shows that aggregated viewpoints from across an organization generate more successful and enduring solutions than decrees emanating from a few cloistered folks at the top.
As Gardner’s article points out, leading without listening is a risky business.