I’ve had the privilege of working with dozens of Fortune 500 companies in my speaking career. For all that these businesses are doing right and for all of their ingenuity, I’m always disheartened to hear what middle managers have to say about some of their executives.
Here are the top complaints I hear:
- They like hearing themselves talk.
- They don't have enough compassion or empathy.
- They point out the problems at the wrong time, destroying morale.
- They micromanage.
- They don't know how to read people and understand individuals’ needs apart from the company's needs.
- They are so narrow-minded in their own vision that they don't recognize or appreciate others’ ideas.
- They don't create an environment of collaboration that their employees want to inhabit.
- They rule as a dictator
But I have a theory: The more that a leader in a corporation chooses to listen instead of talk, the more respected they are. I have some experience in listening instead of talking--in fact, I spent 25 years of my career in silence.
I was a mime, while I don't think miming necessarily teaches you how to be a leader, I do think that miming teaches you how to relate to other people and to understand the world from another person’s perspective. And that's what a leader has to do to understand the experiences of their employees.
Here are some of the things I learned from being quiet for 25 years as a mime working at amusement parks, thousands of special events, grand openings and cruise ships:
- How to read a room and figure out how I can make the environment better and enhance everyone's experience without being overbearing.
- How to understand and portray emotion.
- How to sense the mood of the room to know what would be funny to some and irreverent to others.
- How to let the show go on, despite any hiccups.
- How to interpret the body language and facial expressions of others and to improvise accordingly.
- How to say "yes" to other performers that I'm sharing the stage with.
- How to create a fun, engaging, energizing environment
If you're in a position of leadership and you're struggling to relate to your employees, peers, or staff, then maybe it's time to stop talking.
Try it out at your next meeting (no white face required) and instead of talking over everyone, really listen. You may be surprised at what you hear.