Living here in the U.S. as I do, I’ve grown deeply disturbed at how our collective capacity for listening and for true connection with others has shifted dramatically in the past two years. Suddenly, what was once the hallmark of our country – the rich, collaborative co-existence of and respect for very different ideologies, beliefs and traditions among us – has turned into something else, and that something is terrifying.
Our world has transformed into a waging of war against each other every day. The majority of us are standing entrenched behind our own ideological “bunkers.” And we’ve chosen to stand in those bunkers only with those who hate the same people we hate.
As Brené Brown so powerfully articulated in her recent lecture at Washington’s National Cathedral,
“I’d define where we are in this highly polarized world as a crisis of spiritual connection… We have sorted ourselves by ideology into bunkers…factions….And the more sorted we become, the lonelier we are.”
Brené goes on to say that this process of “sorting” and the lack of connection and isolation that occurs from sorting, leads inevitably to dehumanization. And once we dehumanize others, we’re capable of doing anything to them. We’re seeing this every single day, in the news and in the conversations we’re all having, day in and day out.
Here’s Brené’s powerful, eye-opening talk about sorting, isolation and dehumanization that’s taking hold:
When I step back and analyze the findings from my work and interviews with some of the most positive and transformative leaders and influencers, I see one recurring trait that stands above them all. And, interestingly, when I look at exceptional qualities of the successful professionals I’ve coached, the exact same trait is apparent in them as well.
What is this one trait that separates successful, highly impactful and transformational leaders from the rest?
It’s the ability to listen and connect wholeheartedly – with compassion, respect, and emotional balance – with all people, regardless of their different ideologies and beliefs.
And the flip side of this is also true: Those who are unable to listen with their hearts and spirits in a respectful, balanced and compassionate way to those who are different are the same individuals who are experiencing the greatest amount of trauma, conflict and pain in their work, lives and relationships.
Truly successful leaders and professionals (and by the way, I’m not just talking about “powerful” leaders, I’m talking about successful ones) are able to do the following:
They listen to learn, not to teach or impose
Amazing leaders who transform and uplift us actively listen as a way to learn, grow and expand their own knowledge and understanding. Poor leaders listen only for evidence of how they are right or how they can “win.”
They listen as a way to make sense of their environment and the challenges, not to demonize them
Transformative leaders listen as a way to understand the “why” behind what’s happening. They fully get that this “why” can’t be discerned unless all viewpoints are openly shared. Poor leaders listen only for nuggets that they can use against other people or other factions.
They listen without agenda, but with purposeful intent to connect people, not divide them
Truly great leaders know this: Ultimate success cannot be achieved without the collaboration and investment of all parties involved. So they listen as a way to build bridges, not eradicate them. Poor leaders constantly hold to one rigid agenda, and that agenda is to put themselves and their faction above what is best for the collective good.
They listen to find new solutions that will help not just their own interests, but will support the highest and greatest long-term good of all
Transformative leaders who are successful in bringing about positive change are continually listening for potential new approaches and solutions that will help the greatest number possible, not just those who adhere to one ideology. They recognize that the best solutions emerge from diverse, expansive thought and approach.
They listen to learn how they can grow
Finally, successful leaders listen as a way to see more clearly their own part in the problem at hand, and to understand how to stretch beyond their limitations and grow. Poor leaders listen only as a way to defend and justify who they have become.
In the end, highly successful leaders make significant positive change possible because they’re able to do what many of us can’t – listen wholeheartedly and unemotionally to those who are different, so that new, innovative solutions can emerge. In this way, these leaders support not only their particular interests, but the interests of a world that lies beyond their limited, isolated agenda.
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