The Most Important Job of any Business Leader: Love and Listen

I want you to think of all the people in your life and identify someone who is not living up to the potential you believe they have. It could be a friend who is always complaining about their job, a family member who is constantly fighting with someone, or an employee who doesn't seem to have found their spark.

Now I want you to get really present to how life must be for them. Do you truly know what their life looks like? Their fears and insecurities? The bigger hopes and dreams? How their relationships function? What their past holds? What does a day in their life entail? 

You likely don't really know the answer to those questions.

Jamshed Bharucha, President Emeritus of Cooper Union, has this to say on relating to others: "...keep trying to put yourself in the shoes of others whose frameworks or cultures are not alien to you, and have an open mind to different ways of parsing the world. Before you critique a new idea, or another culture, master it to the point at which its proponents or members recognize that you get it."

Bharucha is asking you to lose your own opinions, judgements, evaluations, and beliefs to the point that others KNOW you relate to and understand what they are communicating. That kind of listening and acceptance creates a level of trust and love that can open up life for you and others.

Every group (including families and friends), organization, or company – including yours – has a set of beliefs and network of conversations: shared visions, values, goals, and stories. Without sharing those elements, there is no group culture. And without culture, the group won't last. However, you cannot create any of those things until there is listening, compassion, and love for each other.

Now here is where you lose yourself in your listening: Love and compassion creates growth within that group.

This means that you love others so much that you sacrifice your opinions and expectations in the interest of other human being's growth and progress.

You so fully accept others and help them explore what is possible in an effort to help them grow and in turn grow the group, organization, or company. Without that kind of acceptance, others will not have a willingness to listen to you and could miss out on an opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute. 

Now think of the person you identified earlier; recall the potential you believe they should be living into. And now understand that is the potential YOU have identified for them, not their own. So first, let go of that. And then make time to sit and really talk to them. 

Here is a list of questions you can start with: 

  • How is life for you?
  • What are some things you feel you're good at it?
  • What is an area you believe you need to improve?
  • What are you committed to in life?
  • What are some areas of your life where you would like to produce results and feel you are not able to?
  • What are some areas of your life where you face persistent challenges; money, career, health & fitness, relationship, or something else?
  • Are you mostly a peaceful, happy, and joyful human being or do you feel life isn't fair?

As they respond, remember to listen to learn, not to evaluate. Opinions and judgements will show up. Ignore them. Keep listening and keep supporting the other person as they share. 

People will be hesitant to share and that is okay, Keep working to show them that they can trust you. Create a safe space by reassuring them that nothing they share will ever be shared with anyone else. (And then honor your word.) Do this over and over again. Share out of you own life. It shows you are also willing to be vulnerable and that you trust them as well. Continue making time and asking questions to understand them. Though it takes time, it always works.

Once you get past the surface level answers and trust is present, it is time to dig into the real reasons why this person is the way they are, and if they are happy with who they are. The book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD., is a great resource for this next level of love and connection. Essentially, by listening for feelings, needs, and underlying requests, people can relate to each other in a meaningful way and get to the heart of the matter quickly and with empathy. 

More often than not, people just want to be heard.

Once they are heard and know that you’re there for them, they will be open to input and exploration about new possibilities that would impact their lives in a meaningful way. It is in these possibilities that you both can create new openings for growth and contribution. Share with them the potential you see for them. And then ask if they see the same potential. If they don’t, ask them why. Help them navigate their answers. 

Every human is capable of great things. And a great business leader will help them uncover that greatness by listening with love; that means listening without your own judgements and beliefs, which can get in your way to make a contribution in their lives. Ask meaningful questions to create a safe space for sharing. Then ask more. And finally, share what you see for that person and ask how you can support them in achieving their own fullest potential. After showing up in this way, you will have no problem answering all the questions mentioned at the beginning of the article because you would have truly lost yourself in your listening and love for the other person.

Every extraordinary human being was an ordinary human being in the start.

The ordinary human beings become extraordinary when they see what is possible.

As a business leader, you are not only in the business of achieving numbers, you’re also in the business of inspiring people to become extraordinary; and you can only inspire people to become extraordinary when you listen to others empathetically and love them unconditionally.