We’ve all come to understand that disruption is the name of the game in the new world of work.
Who would have thought, though, that in the space of one year, three very different countries would experience political disruption no-one saw coming?
It all started with Britain’s then-Prime Minister David Cameron making a monumental mistake in thinking that the British public were firmly behind him and would vote for Britain to stay in the EU. Much to his shock – and the shock of many others in Britain and around the world – the majority of Brits were having none of it and voted for Brexit, also resulting in “Cameronexit” as Cameron was left with very little choice but to stand down as Prime Minister.
Then came South Africa’s turn to get an opinion from its citizens as to who should run its municipalities. The ANC was of the opinion that it would be business as usual and that they would continue to run local government across the country. It was their turn to be shocked when they lost the Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metros, three strategic municipalities they had previously run since the dawn of democracy. With Cape Town already being run by the opposition, the ANC found themselves not running the four most significant metros in the country.
While they were still trying to work out what had gone wrong, America’s presidential race came to an equally surprising climax when, contrary to all the supposedly reliable polls, Republican Donald Trump stormed in to claim occupancy of the White House while it was the turn of the Democrats to shake their heads in shock and disbelief, wondering what exactly happened.
While these three events took place in vastly different countries and under vastly different circumstances, there is one common thread that provides a very powerful lesson to current and future business leaders.
That lesson is: Listen to the people you’re leading.
One of the classic mistakes leaders make is thinking they know what others think and want – without bothering to ask them. They therefore define reality in their own terms instead of establishing exactly what reality is to the people they lead. Such leaders believe themselves and their own publicity – a bad mistake – and they think that others will believe what they say, too.
When leaders get into that head space, they do not feel the need to listen to their people. After all, they know what the people want, or so they think.
One of the deepest needs every human being has is the need to be heard. And when people feel they are not being heard, they will do one of two things. They will either remain quiet and not say anything until they have a chance to express how they feel, or they will become increasingly vocal in their demands to be heard.
The more dangerous (for the leader, that is) of the two reactions is the quiet one, because it lulls leaders into a false sense of security. They then discover the truth when it’s too late – at the polls. This happened in all three cases – in Britain, South Africa and America.
People waited until they had a chance to express their view at the polls, and then did …
Listening to the people you lead does not involve you speaking. When you speak, you cannot listen. Listening does not mean you think of what you’re going to answer while the other person is speaking. Listening means you let the other person say exactly what they want to say, whether you want to hear it or not, and you ask yourself a very important question while they’re talking to you. You ask yourself, “What is this person telling me?” Only then will you come closer to the real truth. And that kind of listening results in the other person feeling that they have been heard, a key factor in your listening.
Of course, listening need not be done only on an “in-person” and/or “one-to-one” basis. It can be done in highly sophisticated ways using the technology that is available, but the skill of listening remains the same – you open your mind to receive the real message you’re being given.
There is one massive advantage to being a listening leader. When you remain in touch with what people are thinking and feeling and are therefore better able to meet them where they are, you earn their trust and support. People will naturally follow and support a leader who they feel hears them. It’s as simple as that. But, as many leaders show us, simple isn’t easy.
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and a professional speaker. He assists business leaders to lead their people into the new world of work.