The Value in Listening

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Ben-Feril2By Benjamin G. M. Feril

December 2012—A few days ago, a good friend of mine complained that her boss does not listen to her and went on to say that he appears to not listen to any of his employees. To further complicate the supervisor/employee relationship, when the supervisor reached major organizational decisions regarding the division, they were not preceded with any discussion with the affected employees, and a “my way or the highway” approach was taken to executing the decision.

Managers seem to have little time to interact with their employees and to listen to their concerns and inputs. These are basic leadership responsibilities, and in today’s highly competitive environment managers need to take heed in the value of listening. I believe that the causes of this communication rift are the overwhelming number of demands on managers, a lack of desire to invest the time in listening, and lack of leadership maturity.

Today’s leaders are drowning in a sea of information. Many, if not all, attend numerous face to face meetings and teleconferences every day, each one producing additional tasks on top of assignments already due. Worse yet, some of these gatherings generate little outcome or are just time wasters. Another source of information overload is email.  Responsible leaders read and/or scan their myriad emails in hopes of catching the ever important electronic message from their boss, spouse, or child, or the co-workers with whom they’re collaborating on projects. Leaders reading email have to sift through hundreds of messages containing work related announcements, ads, spam, and those with a 100 page document attached or a 100 slide PowerPoint deck for the meeting scheduled the following day.

Faced with demands on their time and being overwhelmed with electronic mail, leaders find themselves with little time to interact with their employees. Attention to leadership and management issues can sometimes take a back seat as they constantly deal with the “alligators closest to the canoe.” In many cases, employees find themselves having to compete for their bosses’ time; however (from a personal perspective), it’s interesting to note that some leaders always seem to find time to chat with peers and friends in the workplace. Strange?

Finally, lack of leadership maturity can also cause a wide rift in the supervisor/employee relationship. Here, leaders simply do not know how to lead or manage and/or do not know how to interact with their employees. An extreme example was at a previous workplace I was at when a peer supervisor would place notes to her employees on a bulletin board mounted on her office door to hand out tasks or to inquire the status of projects. All of her employees were expected to check her bulletin board on a regular basis. When she was in her office (with the door closed) she refused to allow her employees in to discuss the tasks she’d assigned and instead preferred that they left notes on her bulletin board with their questions.  She would then respond with answers and, yes, posted on the bulletin board! Morale in this division was down in the dumps and productivity was languishing.

All of these causes have the net effect of generating a very poor work climate, a lack of organizational focus, poor productivity, and lack of trust generating very bad morale among all those concerned. Given these circumstances, what are some potential solutions? After all, decent leaders and employees want to work in an environment based on a free flow of information, transparency, productivity, and most of all mutual trust. To achieve this state would involve “information flow management,” trust in delegation, and focus on teamwork.

First of all, supervisors must recognize that their most valuable assets are their people. It’s often been said that supervisors will rise or fall on how their employees respond to the supervisors’ leadership, and how the supervisor is providing support for their efforts. However, when overloaded with information, “information flow management” is a must. Supervisors need to effectively delegate tasks among employees to include attending meetings and/or teleconferences. Decide which of these events requires the presence of key leaders or if deputies or assistants can participate. Delegation forms trust among subordinate managers and provides them with opportunities to learn and grow in their responsibilities. Tasks can also be delegated to others. If worked effectively, subordinates delegated with attending meetings and completing tasks will result in the manager providing leadership and oversight.

Email is a tougher nut to crack since everyone is highly dependent on this form of communication. Supervisors should schedule specific times throughout the day where they can cull their inbox and then spend a majority of time in person to person interaction with their employees. Many firms have established such a policy to include no emails before or after work to allow individuals to spend time with family and leisure pursuits.

Finally, a focus on teamwork is vital if supervisors and employees are to get along and meet the requirements of their companies and customers. This begins with training and developing employees to effectively do their jobs. In his book “The 360° Leader,” John C. Maxwell comments on development, noting that “when you develop others, they become better, they do the job better, and both you and the organization benefit.” This means that supervisors and employees must be able to constantly communicate in order for everyone to be successful.

CRAs understand the value of listening. With validated proficiency in the core domains of imaging management (human resources, asset, fiscal, operations, and communication/information), they are showing they have a solid understanding of how to lead a team and communicate effectively. Make sure you’re listening to your team every day, and if you haven’t taken the CRA exam yet, sign up to take it in May and earn recognition for your leadership skills.

Capt. Benjamin G. M. Feril, MSC, USN is a member of the United States Navy currently serving in Bethesda, MD as Director for the Joint Medical Planners Course (JMPC) for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, J-4/Health Services Support Directorate. He is also the RACC’s Public Commissioner. He can be contacted at

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