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Leadership Lessons from the Debt Deal Fiasco

| August 2, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Yesterday, Dave Logan’s column “Leadership Lessons from the Debt Deal Fiasco” appeared in the BNET newsletter.  Given the timeliness of the subject, I wanted to share the column and its lesson with you.  Logan is a faculty member in USC’s Marshall School of Business.  He teaches leadership and management.  In addition, he’s a Senior Partner in CultureSync, a management consulting firm he co-founded in 1997, and author of four books including “Tribal Leadership.”

Logan begins the piece with “What’s happening in Washington is a perfect opportunity to learn the most important rule about leadership:  ‘Leaders listen first, and listen for a solution that takes everyone’s interests into account.  And, only then do they speak.'”

He goes on to characterize the recent activities in Washington as a drunken party.  People talk, stop talking, and then each tells the world why the other is wrong.  As I think about it, this behavior is not limited to Washington.  It’s also prevalent in our leadership circles as well.

From Logan’s point of view, when you are trying to work out a contentious issue, you should:

1.  Listen with a very unique kind of listening;  you listen for intentions, aspirations, and fears;  you listen for how things “occur” to the other person.  The goal is to see the inner workings of the other’s mind so clearly that their actions make sense to you.  You may not agree with them, but you do see the situation as they see it.

2.  Listen for solutions that take all the concerns into account.  Focus on alignment not agreement and show that you fully understand the concerns.

Logan raises the point that this may sound like impossible fiction.  However, it does happen.  As an example, he points out that some of our major governing documents – the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the U. S. Constitution – came out of groups working in just this way.

He concludes:  “Before the age of the 24/7 news cycle, people were willing to listen, reflect, and understand.”  Whether we are driven by the 24/7 news cycle or not, we are driven by a technology that enables, even encourages, us to respond very rapidly.  Perhaps though, it is time for us to work on the skills of listening, reflecting, and understanding and do so before we respond.

We are not likely to be engaged with issues as momentous as the national debt limit.  Yet, listening in this way can make a significant difference.  Just as Logan suggests, listening in this way leads us to form “tribes” across different points of view, align on bigger solutions, and get things done.

Try listening this way the next time you find yourself confronting a difficult issue.


.  .  .  .     jim