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A client was in the beginning stages of efforts to improve the organizations culture to be more collaborative and where employees are more engaged. I advised the CEO to begin the culture change by improving the quality and amount of listening among leaders and employees. They gave lip service to the importance of listening and then asked me to dive into what they believe are more critical topics. The message I got was that they believed were beyond the basics of listening.

I wondered if they were alone in their oversight of such an important part of a company’s culture and communication. When I got home, I picked up every book on my shelf that talks about coaching or asking questions and there wasn’t a single chapter dedicated to listening. I don’t for a minute believe these authors think listening is unimportant but in my judgement, I believe many think it is obvious and other topics require more attention.

Nothing is more fundamental in your leadership and a healthy organization than listening. In The Advantage, Pat Lencioni says, “The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free and available to anyone who wants it.” Listening most certainly fits into the category of “simple, free and available to anyone who wants it.”


As you bring a focus to listening, it is critical to level set on the definition — for yourself, but especially for a group.

What I am NOT talking about is the auditory function of the sound entering your ear and your brain interpreting those signals into meaning.

Listening is…

Being curious and interested – In the beginning, it may be ACTING interested

Quieting your mind – Turning the volume down on your noisy head.

Creating a safe space for another person (even in the face of distractions)

Exploring possibilities vs. giving answers – Giving up the need to be the answer guy or gal.

Getting what’s not said – There’s gold when you listen between the words.

Reflecting back – Sharing back what you think you heard to assure understanding

Really getting the other person – Lean in (figuratively) and attempt to understand who the person is as much as what they are saying.


Very simply, a listening culture is one that holds listening as one of its highest values and uses the level at which people listen as a means of defining success. As the saying goes, “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” Measuring an intangible like listening can be hard, but using it to define and measure success makes a listening culture a real thing your people will take seriously.

A listening culture doesn’t mean people don’t give direction, feedback or do the hard things that often come with life in an organization. What it does mean is that in the midst of those hard things, you seek first to understand (listen) and then be understood.


While the practice of listening can start everywhere and anywhere in the organization, a culture of listening must start at the top. You might automatically think the top is the CEO, Executive Director or Managing Partner, but “the top” is simply the leader of an organization that wishes to create a culture of its own. A project manager, department head, director, team lead and yes, CEO, Executive Director or Managing Partner.

It starts with a way of being for the leader. A choice to show up differently to every interaction and when two or more leaders are involved, a culture of listening is a commitment among those leaders to listen first and to hold one another to account for this commitment. This commitment should include an agreement to give and receive feedback from each other.

Training may be necessary but let’s be real. You know how to listen, you know how it feels to be listened to (or not listened to). Most of us simply choose not to do it.

Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world” is no more valid than with building a culture of listening. Just start and watch others start to follow.


What is one tiny step you will take this week to build your own listening habit? It could be as simple as…

  • Ensure your body and face show that you are involved in the conversation and interested in what the speaker is saying
  • Using your own words, clarify your understanding of what the speaker has said by reflecting back her words, thoughts and feelings.
  • Respond to feedback by summarizing what you heard and confirming that you heard it correctly.

Schedule a time with me to dive deeper into creating a culture of listening and explore the experiential learning options offered by Brilliance Within to help foster that change.

Jeff HarmonJeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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