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If you’re trying to tap into the power of employee engagement, you can’t stand on a mountaintop with a megaphone.


You have to create an active, ongoing dialogue. And that means you have to listen—really listen—to the people on your team.

That may seem like an obvious point. But a lot of leaders just go through the motions. They ask questions. They collect feedback. Then they hand all that information off to someone who writes a report that ends up in a dusty corner of cyberspace.

That kind of reaction is destined to misfire completely. And it shows a complete disregard of the fact that listening is a powerful management tool.

It’s refreshing. It’s captivating. It shows you take people seriously. And it’s often almost mind-blowing to employees, because so many leaders talk first and ask questions later…if at all.

A quick anecdote about the power of a simple question

When I became the head of a business services organization, I caused a minor sensation at a kick-off meeting with client account managers from across the country. Instead of starting off with my own agenda, I asked a question no one had ever tossed out to them before:

“What’s the one thing people in upper management need to know, but they don’t really want to hear?”

At first, people were afraid to answer. Then they lost their inhibitions, and the floodgates opened. Now, I admit that some leaders are afraid of this kind of reaction. But I loved it. People were telling me things they thought I didn’t want to hear. And they were giving me incredibly valuable inside information on our organizational dynamics.

You have really listened, now what? 

The response was exciting. But it was just the first step. So I carefully reviewed their feedback to identify legitimate issues and concerns. Then I began engineering ways to respond with meaningful improvements.

Of course, many leaders have no intention of responding. It’s too hard to tinker with incentives, long standing grievances, career path, etc. So why listen? In that context, it’s just a waste of time. And a sham.

But the way I looked at it was very different.

I listened. Then I responded. And from that point on, I had a captive audience: People willingly listened to me. And that helped us work together to solve our problems [see The Business Services Leader Case Study], boost our performance, and develop a powerful esprit de corps.