HEARING EVERY VOICE
If the basic principle of syncretic leadership is to help everyone served by an organization realize the personal goals of growth and service, while at the same time advancing the mission of the institution in an atmosphere of power, the leader's first responsibility is to learn what that goal is.
With structure, tradition and slope, internal voices are muted by a very closed system, and many important external voices are intimidated or alienated by the mystic of the university.
FINDING TIME TO LISTEN
Two problems always make it difficult to "walk around" leadership. The first is time. Similarly, most of us try to schedule time to go out and go, demand travel, legislative hearings, appointments with prospective donors, citizenship responsibilities, and tight meeting schedules. and the office is a quick way to see people helping leaders to feel "connected" with a fairly short time commitment. Leaders find time for what they view as important and for what they find personally comfortable. They do not find time for what they may know to be important but find uncomfortable, unless it is forced upon them. Some may not enjoy testifying in front of the legislature, but must out of necessity. Getting out and mixing with the quieter, less insistent voices in the college’s community may never be presented as a necessity, even if these constituents have some of the greatest needs. Leaders must impose the necessity upon themselves.
Remember the difference in your perception when you were given even five minutes with a congressman or senator during a capital visit rather than with an aide. You left feeling important, cared about, and with a much greater respect for the leader. Employees on campus are no less influenced, and no less appreciative. Plus, a leader who wishes to transform the institution into an organization of social consequence cannot gain a sense of what its vision must be through filtered lenses. He or she must feel, smell, taste, and experience the needs and desires of those the college serves.
HEARING THE REAL MESSAGE
The second complication with effective listening is that even when the leader is seen in an informal, walking-around situation, coworkers are inclined to view the occasional visit as artificial, intrusive, and evaluative. Most of us know our general institutional cultures well, but not necessarily the cultures of the college’s subgroups or of key community constituencies. What is important to that group of maintenance workers? To other hourly staff?
Even when conversation seems free and casual, colleagues who view themselves as subordinate are carefully guarding what they say and measuring its effect. This is not to suggest that “walking around” involvement in the institution is not important to keep in touch, but few of us do it well, no matter how well intentioned. And even when done with regularity, it must be accompanied by a keen ability to listen and accept.
LEARNING TO LISTEN
We hear, but often fail to listen. Listening is an act of submission, of respect and interest; an active intellectual exercise which requires focused attention on what is being said with a desire to understand. Greenleaf suggested that the first impulse of the servant leader must be to listen, not to talk, and recommended regular periods of time dedicated to improving listening skills. one can easily make genuine questioning a part of listening habits with, “Elaborate on that for me,” or, “Explain a bit more what you mean by that,” being all that is needed to turn hearing into listening and understanding.
Most of us need more formal ways to listen to what is happening—to learn what those we serve want. In the opening chapter, the writer mentioned the use of evaluation as a means of giving voice to others within the organization. If an academic leader wants to know what people want from the college and what they think about its performance, he or she simply needs to ask. Invite everyone who is subordinate to anonymously evaluate the leader.
Greenleaf observed, “The best test of whether we are communicating … is to ask ourselves first: Are we really listening?” 7 Good listening is the initial step to good leadership. For the service-directed leadership our future demands, without listening, there will be no understanding, and without understanding, no direction for service.
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