Joan received an opportunity to lead a large organization in a new industry. Her background prepared her for many of the expectations of the new role, but she didn’t have industry specific knowledge and she didn’t know the company or the people.
While she is hardly the first person to be in this situation, she wasn’t completely sure what do to first.
She had some changes in mind and the Board had given her full authority to make them. She immediately saw some potential weaknesses, and she certainly wanted to get off on the right foot in the organization. She was wise enough to realize that whatever she did early in her tenure would be looked at under a microscope, and she wanted her actions to be the actions she would want repeated within the organization far into the future.
In the days before she arrived on her new job she thought about these challenges, and she read everything she could about the organization. The day before she arrived on the job she decided what to do. . .
She would go on a listening tour.
What, you may ask, is a listening tour?
A listening tour is a time set aside not to make new decisions, but to gather information and input – to collect the insights, ideas and context from others before making decisions.
New in her role and in the organization, Joan felt this was her best first step so she:
- Determined whom to listen to. She identified the various groups, stakeholders, specific individuals and locations that she should visit. She asked others who key thought leaders were, which groups would most appreciate her time, and what parts of the organization might have felt slighted in the past. She took all of this into account in building her listening list.
- Announced her intention and plan to the full organization. At her first opportunity, she told the organization about the tour – what is was and why she was doing it. She let people know that she wanted to listen and laid out the timeline for doing so. This way people knew what she was doing, and had a sense of when she would be making decisions about the future – after her tour was complete.
- Created a list of questions. While she wanted each conversation to flow naturally, she was intentional about some things she wanted to know – about the organization, culture and the individuals in it. She also wanted to make sure she was building new relationships too. All of these goals informed the questions she created.
- Resolved to shut up and listen. If she was going to listen (and announce it to the world) she knew she must really listen – be active and not distracted.
- Started listening. Once she had prepared the organization, a plan and herself, she got to it!
After completing this tour, she had done several things that would serve both her and the organization well, including:
- Formed and strengthened new relationships. With that as a clear part of her intention, and through her example, how could she not build more meaningful relationships this way than with a more traditional start to her new role?
- Created a solid base of knowledge and expertise. Not only was she learning, but she was doing it in full view of the organization, so her new found knowledge would be credible to everyone. This credibility will serve her in many ways.
- Provided an important example to the organization. She led by example. Do you think her example would be remembered? Do you think it might have an impact on other leaders? I think so too.
- Built her reputation in a positive way. Every leader yearns to build a reputation once they are in a new role. A listening tour will create a very positive reputation that will serve her well in her new role.
The stories are legendary – leaders join an organization or group and want to leave their mark by bringing in “their” people, making immediate decisions on new plans and projects, and more. While these stories are sometimes not much more than just stories, there is truth in myth. People expect new leaders take these actions, and they aren’t often seen as positive by others, and sometimes they don’t work well because of the lack of commitment or understanding of the change.
Joan’s approach also allowed her to “leave a mark” and build a reputation – by creating and taking her listening tour she made her first decision one that had a lasting impression on the organization, and that first decision allowed those that followed to be better informed and more likely to be supported.
This story is fictional, but the concerns and suggestions are real. Even if you are not moving to a new company or role, the lessons of the listening tour apply. Perhaps there is a part of the business, a niche of the business or a set of Customers you don’t know well. Consider a listening tour.
Perhaps you feel your team isn’t as engaged as you would like them to be. Consider a listening tour.
Remember that a listening leader is a Remarkable Leader.