Hey, Leader! Are You Hearing Voices?

Strong leaders are surrounded by a plethora of voices. The challenge is knowing which ones to listen to—to which should I pay attention or seek out?

Voices matter! Here are a few that will compete for your attention:

The Client’s Voice

Everyone who wants to be successful listens to their target audience. What do they want? What do they need to be effective? How can you meet this need? Should you provide it?

While the customer’s voice matters, don’t let it rule over you. I have seen too many businesses, schools, and churches reshape everything they did because of a loud, clamoring portion of their customer base. In the process, they compromised their identity, values, and core mission. A smart leader knows what they do well—and what they DO NOT do well. Listen, but stay focused.

The Staff’s Voice

Your people matter. Employees, teams, top staff, core members of your non-profit, volunteers – each has a voice worth listening to. Many senior leaders are poor listeners here. So we have to change. We must discern the difference between a complaint and a concern; a creative idea and a series of random, emotionally-driven suggestions; between fear-filled hesitancy and legitimate warnings and cautions.

If you get these wrong, bad decisions can result, curtailing performance and likely alienating many staff. Staff needs a place to process, have dialogue, and to engage. Top-down “communicate and delegate” structures tend to view resistance as rebellion, and caution as confrontation. Don’t bow to these misinterpretations.

Listen to staff and volunteers, but don’t fear leading them.

The Owner’s Voice

You might have to please outside owners (shareholders, boards, large donors, founding pastors, business owners, and—yikes—family members of business owners!). You have to be wise and shrewd when engaging in these conversations.

Balance your desired outcomes with their expectations, your vision with their passion, your management with their muscle, and your budget with their cash.

Respect those above you, communicate truth with grace, and seek to understand their fears, concerns, desires, expectations and insights. And after all that…lead. Lead and keep them informed. Do not go rogue on them or you will break trust, and soon find an early pathway out the door.

Your Inner Voice

So many leaders, listening mostly to the voices around them, fail to hear the inner voice. Or they hear it, but filter it through fear and doubt. Effective self-leadership requires a centered self-trust in your own voice.

Listening only to your inner voice is dangerous. But ignoring it can be fatal. Deep convictions, spiritual insights, and your conscience may at times serve as the only guide keeping you from a disastrous decision or action.

Caution: The inner voice must be informed by—and shaped by—some outer voices. For many people “outer” voices include mentors, trusted experts, or the voice of their faith. They are shaped by spiritual beliefs and core values.

Sometimes I have a sense of what could or should be done—and I can rush into a decision, believing I have the answer. After all, how could I be wrong? And then the voice of wisdom speaks. Have you consulted your trusted voices? Have you heard wise people, engaged key peers, and honored values and beliefs at the core of your life? The inner voice can be wrong. Do not blindly follow it or foolishly ignore it.

So, what voices are you listening to? Ignoring? Afraid of? Rejecting? Seeking?

Pay attention to—and cultivate—trusted voices. You’ll become a better leader.

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