Thoughts on Leadership: The Power of Connection, Collaboration and Listening

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls and the morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call. On Tuesday, I virtually attended the August HomeServices of America corporate team gathering, and on Wednesday I filmed various upcoming video projects at the local Intero office in Cupertino. (Thank you to Marketing & IT Coordinator Thuy Huynh for your script assistance!) Today, I’m in meetings and carved out some time to write this post to you.

Let’s talk about connection. Why is it important? Leaders should always lead with connection over direction. When you lead by connecting (rather than directing people in their actions), you immediately add a level of compassion, trust and respect to everything you and your team accomplish.

Consider the example of Pat Summit, iconic coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball team, who served as head coach from 1974 – 2012. She had 1,098 career wins in 1,306 games coached in AIAW and NCAA Division 1 play, the third-most wins in women’s basketball history.

Coach Summit was a guru at connecting, and it began with the practices she put in place during every team interaction. At half time, for instance, you might expect she began addressing the team with an inspirational speech about how they can win the game.

Nope.

Instead, she’d gather the players around a whiteboard upon which she’d write three simple questions:

  1. What did we do right in the first half?
  2. What did we do wrong?
  3. What do we need to change?

The team would then discuss the answers to each question in a hearty debate where every player’s voice was heard. Summit once said, “Too many leaders lead by assumption. They assume they know where their people are. These three simple questions allow me to find my players so I can lead them. That can only be done by asking questions and listening to their answers.”

In other words, connection over direction. Try asking these three questions the next time you begin a team meeting around a certain initiative and see how it shifts the outcome of your project.

Coach Summit’s whiteboard approach also sparks collaboration, which is essential to team performance. According to Forbes contributor Adi Gaskell, a research study on collaboration in the workplace showed participants who acted collaboratively “stuck at their tasks 64% longer than their solitary peers, whilst also reporting higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels and a higher success rate.”

You’ve probably experienced the energizing characteristics of collaboration first-hand; have you ever sat in the audience at a conference and paid attention to the speaker because you saw everyone in the room fixated on the stage? Have you ever been to a baseball game where the entire crowd cheers for the batter and you find yourself feeling uplifted by this collaborative display of support? The same applies to a team in any business or organization. When collaboration happens, productivity, motivation and inspiration quickly follow.

Coach Summit’s whiteboard approach also teaches us is the power of listening over talking. (If you want to know if you’re a good listener, simply ask your friends, family, or colleagues to provide honest feedback about your listening skills. Then listen to what they have to say!)

Listening is closely tied to learning, and leaders must always be in a perpetual state of improvement and learning, which means listening more than speaking. A 2020 LinkedIn survey of almost 14,000 employees around the world revealed only 8% of employees felt mid- and senior-level leaders listened “very well.”

It’s an astounding figure, especially when you take into account that listening is one of the easiest things we can do – because there is nothing to do but listen. If you’re looking for a few practical ways to improve your listening, here are some tips from Harvard Business Review:

  • Repeat the speaker’s last several words back to them.
  • Offer non-verbal cues like direct eye contact, nodding and an attentive posture as they speak.
  • Pay attention to their non-verbal cues; tone, facial expressions and body language also reveals the sentiment behind what someone is saying.
  • Ask questions that are relevant and clarifying to the conversation.
  • Minimize external distractions.
  • Don’t think about your response while someone is speaking; react once they’ve finished and if you need to, take a moment to collect your thoughts.

So, what’s the message? This week let’s learn from the legendary leadership of Pat Summit to lead with connection and collaboration and make a concerted effort to listen more than we speak. When we focus on connection, collaboration and the empathy that listening will provide, we create an even more open and honest workspace and a team ready to generate fresh, new ideas.

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