Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Listening II

Growing up in a household with a father who for 30 years ran a women's clothing business with his partner, I find myself drawn to articles about retailing leadership. My father was of the old school - work before family, no wasted time in meetings, top-down decision-making, and martini-handshake deals.

With that frame of reference, last week I read a short interview with Linda Heasley, the CEO of The Limited, about the guidance she gives to new department managers. Just listen for the first 90 days, she says. “Take 90 days. The relationships you build in your first few months here are critical to your success. Try not to talk in meetings. I know you’re going to want to demonstrate that you’re really capable and you deserve to be here by showing your smarts. But if you listen and let the void fill with what’s around you, you’ll learn a ton.”

When I started a new job last summer, I tried to practice "talk less, listen more". I observed that there were several younger women who had so much to say and I found it rewarding to be a listener, a supporter, and not a "jump in and solve the problem" person. There is another advantage to more listening, less talking. I understand more of the context, which is invaluable to hearing.

But I can hear my father vehemently disagreeing. Don't waste time in meetings, he would say. The workplace is not a democracy. There is only one thing that is important, he would say: to have the right goods in the right place at the right time, and the customer is always right. He was not, by nature, a listener. But he was a keen observer, and right or wrong, he had the power of his convictions. Now sometimes I have the feeling that he is, after all. listening in, and sometimes even surprised by what he hears.

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