I’m Listening as Loud as I Can

by  Deb Costello  |  Leadership Development

Facebook is my guilty pleasure. I admit it. I probably spend too much time on Facebook. I probably spend too much time using social media period, but Facebook is my favorite. I love talking to people, cracking jokes, wryly observing the world, learning, laughing, and crying with friends.

An old friend commented on my excessive Facebook use and so I did an experiment. I stepped off Facebook for a few days and said nothing. That didn’t mean I didn’t read anything. It just meant that for a few days I made no comments, no observations, no jokes. I did not “like” anything, commiserate, or offer advice. And man that was hard. I like talking to people, but for that little window, I just listened. It was interesting. I learned that I talk too much. I learned that if I think about what people are saying, I understand them better. I learned that sometimes it’s best to mind my own business. And I learned that I love my Facebook friends very much.

This week I attended a twitter chat on Tuesday night hosted by the amazing founder of #leadfromwithin @LollyDaskal. Her guest was one of my favorite leaders from twitter, @MarkOOakes. The topic was the relationship between passion and mastery. I eagerly set up my Tweetdeck to catch all the #leadfromwithin hashtags and was set to learn, listen and discuss. @LollyDaskal asked ten questions in an hour. The feed began running and soon it was running at about 100 comments a minute. There was no way I could keep up, no way I could read them all. By the time I had thought through the question, read a few comments, and formulated my own response, it was time for a new question. This was not really what I had expected. There was so much talking. But was I actually listening?

My field, education, offers the opportunity to begin anew every year. Unlike many businesses, we have a clear beginning, middle, and end. We are able to effectively formulate goals and evaluate progress in a way that happens, not because it is January 1, but because we are actually starting something new and finishing it. Our headmaster sets goals for us, our division head sets goals for us, and as a department chair, I set goals for my department and for myself. As I think about the goals I set for this year I realize that they are good goals, clear and achievable, tasks that my team and I will complete and check off. But maybe I can do more.

It is important that I complete my tasks and check off my goals, but as the department chair, it is also my responsibility to help my team achieve their goals. As their leader, I have been so focused on completing the school goals and my own personal goals, that I forgot that it’s also my job to help my department. My department members have their own goals, not only for the school, but for themselves. It’s time I found out what they are. It’s time I started leading by following their lead. It’s time I stopped talking and started listening.

I have it easy. This process happens naturally in education every year. As leaders in your communities, do you regularly listen to your team and help them with their goals? It may not be time for that annual review, but maybe it’s time to check in and see how things are going. Are you willing to lead today by following?

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What People Are Saying

Dale Burket  |  30 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Great post, Deborah! I have found, sometimes through painful experience, that all of my best insights into the world and people around me have come only through listening, and pondering what I have heard. It is as though I turn off my receptors when I am talking. It’s even worse in a tense situation, because I often find myself thinking of the next thing to say while someone else is talking (receptors also turned off!). We all need to listen more and speak less, and when we listen, we should do so deeply, because often what others are saying may not be what they truly mean or feel. It’s simple and complicated at the same time!

Deborah Costello  |  30 Aug 2011  |  Reply

You are so right Dale. I never thought about it in this way before, but often people do not say exactly what they mean or feel and so part of the process of listening is figuring this out. There is a great psychological principle called “Next in Line Effect.” In a group in which people are expected to say something in sequence, we stop listening to the person directly preceeding us so that we can construct our thoughts. In this case we lose only a little in the series, but in a conversation, there’s only two people so if we are always constructing what we want to say next, we lose a lot. The process of leading by listening, constructing our thoughts AFTER we actually hear what’s being said and letting others lead in this sense intrigues me. Thank you for your insightful comments!

Rick Schwartz  |  30 Aug 2011  |  Reply


This is something that I have been struggling with for as long as I’ve been struggling with weight loss. I see a lot of similarities.

#1 I know what I should eat. / I know that I should listen more

#2. I always start each day with a good solid plan of eating well / I always enter a human interaction with the plan of using my two ears more than my one mouth

#3 Sometimes I do eat well / Sometimes I do listen.

#4 When I eat well – I feel like I’ve done something positive / When I listen I ALWAYS learn something.

#5. When I eat poorly I am disappointed that I wasted a day / When I don’t listen properly I am disappointed that I missed an opportunity to enhance my mind and prepare myself better to share what I’ve learned with others.

Great thought – thanks for posting. Today, at least, I am going to use your thoughts to listen more. Tomorrow – we’ll see.

Deborah Costello  |  30 Aug 2011  |  Reply


Wow… what an interesting parallel… as a person that has worked on weight management and fitness for a long time myself, I probably should have put that all together… It’s interesting how the philosophies we create to deal with one part of our lives can so easily flow into other parts, if we just pay attention and think and act deliberately. There is no escaping that we are best when act in all ways from our core values, a philosophy embraced by the LeadChange group in particular. I appreciate you reminding me that my success as a leader and my success as a heathy person are related and can be measured in similar ways.


PS: It’s been my experience that people fail at weightloss or fitness goals when they focus on the failure of a single day. They fall off the wagon and simply never get back on. I love that you have goals for each day. The mistakes of the past are simply that, past. We all make mistakes. What we do next says everything about us. Have a wonderful, healthy day. I will do the same! Thank you!

Mark Oakes  |  30 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Great insights, Deb!

Our ability to learn/grow hinges on the orientation of our Focus (Us vs. Others). When we focus soley on ourselves we stifle the growth process. As you astutely point out, listening is an excellent example. The minute we shut down our internal dialogue and focus intently on another, we’ve opened a channel to learn.

Thanks for sharing!


Deborah Costello  |  30 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Thank you for stopping by Mark. Your insights last week provided me with plenty to consider in writing this post and in moving forward in all that I do. The idea of focus is one you talk about often, specifically on avoiding multitasking and giving each task undivided attention. The idea of listening is a great example of why this wisdom is so true. I tell my students all the time that they must listen in order to learn. Clearly I need to do the same.

I appreciate your continued wisdom!

P.S. Great run today! ;)

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