When was the last time you really listened to someone? Not just listened to give advice or to respond; not half-listened but really listened? Apparently we only retain 25% of what we hear as we are not actively listening. That’s 75% of what others tell us, we miss.
Giving your full attention to another person, is an extremely compassionate and human thing to do. We talk about compassion as a significant part of how we treat our patients in the NHS, however we talk about it less so in relation to how we treat each other.
To me, building a culture of compassion is crucial to ensuring that organisations enable people to bring their whole selves to work. If we truly want to build cultures of continuous improvement, where staff are enabled to make change in their own areas, then leaders and managers must learn to really listen to staff and support them to make that change. As Andy Stanley warns, “Leaders who do not listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” This is a dangerous situation to be in as groupthink can creep in.
Recently I had the privilege of talking to Professor Michael West about our leadership development programme ‘Leading for the Future’; due to be launched by our Chief Executive in the Autumn. The aim of the programme is to support our most senior leaders to create the enabling environments within every directorate that will allow staff to make the change they want to see. We have identified the competencies we believe our leaders will need to create the right conditions for staff to take the organisation forward. We have categorised these competencies into our three pillars of leadership with the first and foremost being Culture of Compassion.
During our conversation West talked about the importance of leaders really listening and told me a fact that I found alarming which was that it has been proven that the more senior people become the less they listen. This appears to me to be paradoxical as surely the more senior you become, the more you need to listen so that you really understand your people and your organisation. There is a real danger that leaders become fixated in their own social construct and rely on their memory of what life was like when they were on the frontline earlier on in their careers. This can lead them to become out of touch; lead from a place of fear and put forward directives or initiatives that are based in historical success rather than on what the organisation needs today.
West identifies that compassionate leadership, the type required to enable a culture of continuous improvement to flourish, is supported through:
- Attending – paying attention to the other and ‘listening with fascination’
- Understanding – finding a shared understanding of the situation they face
- Empathising – feeling how it is to be in their situation
- Helping – taking intelligent action to help them achieve their purpose
This can really only be achieved well through visible leadership; that is leaders going out and about meeting with and listening to their staff to really understand their views.
So, next time you are talking to someone in your organisation, I urge to you to stop, pay attention and listen with fascination. What you learn may surprise you.
With thanks to Professor Michael West, Head of Thought Leadership for The King’s Fund and Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at Lancaster University
About the author
Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and passionate about building more human organisations
Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMorganNHS