In 2008, I set out to launch a TV channel. In my first meeting with my media planning team, I was inundated with numbers. A group of very senior people were demonstrating their mastery on the subject with complicated graphs and an excel sheet embedded in every slide. The intention was good. The insights were great. But had they known me better, they would have heard of the notoriously short attention span that had plagued me through my life and my natural woods-for-the-trees style which sat in stark contradiction sometimes to my love for numbers.
After years of struggling in classrooms and meetings I have learnt to compensate this apparent disability with the ability to spot key insight and action.
My ambitious want-to-take-notes-but-normally-squiggle-in-diaries got replaced by a secret weapon, especially in such meetings. My post-its. Those tiny yellow things stuck in front of me that kept my wandering mind focussed somehow.
Back to the board room, when this meeting finished, I had 6 Post-its in front of me. Actions, insights, key numbers, questions, ideas, follow ups.
When the presenter saw this, she was confused and, as I later found out, even a little offended. She thought I was another boss who had no understanding or interest. This was far from the truth of course, because this was a subject I was very interested in. But I had listened for two hours, possibly looking spaced out and not asking a question. At the end she said, “Well, since you haven’t taken notes and don’t have questions, I can send you the presentation for your records.”
“Hold on.” I picked up my first tiny post-it. “Can I summarise what I learnt today?” And I proceeded to offer my very focused take away. “And, uh, I have a few questions!” That was the beginning of one of the finest relationships and some of the best work of my life.
A room filled with media planners was in shock. A man with post-its! He had questions and ideas and was quoting numbers and slides.
Over the next two years post-it became the buzz word. Of course, the smarter folks learnt to address my limitations, reduce the data, increase the insight, do more storytelling, shorter meetings, work off pre work etc. But the post-its became my claim to fame.
The post-its helped me focus, fight my own limitations, and win the confidence of a room. Not interrupting became a means of empowering in the meetings.
As my stature and responsibility around the table went up, I recognised the need to demonstrate listening, in order to empower myself and the people around me.
There is nothing more powerful in a meeting than a good listener. Especially a collaborative listener When a presenter feels he or she is being listened to, they are more confident, more articulate and often more insightful. As leader, it is not just important to you but to the room you are leading that you listen actively.
This is not always easy, and not for lack of intention, as was my case. I still have post-its on my desk. My diaries have lots of squiggles and sketches and some key points. But I have found a way to listen with my mind and my heart.
Now, as a leadership coach, this is possibly my greatest asset.
What is your listening story?