Sunday, April 10, 2011

The power of listening

I recently was exposed to two slightly different takes on communication from a leadership position and both involve one on one meetings with people.

The first was from a Corner Office interview in the NY Times a few weeks ago. In this interview of Doreen Lorenzo, she talks at length about the power of one on one meetings with people in her design and innovation firm. In these meetings, she lets each person guide the conversation and spends most of the time listening. She also uses this time to communicate the mission of the company, because she feels strongly that people need to hear it from her.

The second exposure is a short video from The Learning Community School in Rhode Island. The co-directors two times a year sit down with every person in the school and just listen. They then do an interesting next step and track all of the things people say, take notes on it, and then share it with everyone in the school, and finally try to facilitate some action steps from the data.

I have done bits and pieces of this as a leader over the years and I value this type of data probably more than any others.

But I need to improve on:
  • Communicating the vision one on one with everyone.
  • Truly listening to people and letting them guide the conversation.
  • Doing it in a systematic way and finding the time to implement that system
It is powerful stuff. The best thing I know I could probably ever say about a boss is that I really felt listened to. I hope I can improve in that area as a leader myself.

A good Sunday morning

The Sunday morning paper is a ritual in our house. Since moving to the east coast years ago, it has become the New York Times. But, this morning, I was filled with a bit of dread when I saw that education was a focus of the magazine section. Dread, because, so often I have found that anything written about education, seemingly almost anywhere, seems to miss the nuances behind what actually happens in a school. So, I had to make a decision, read it right away and work the rest of my Sunday on not being annoyed by it, or just push it off. I decided to read it.

And, I could not believe it. It was one of the best articles about a city school that I have ever read, especially in the context of the current state of reform. It is a good article because it is real. The principal, Ramon Gonzalez, seems amazing and he struggles with many things: the encroachment of charter schools, the inexperience with Teach for America teachers, kids with a lot of needs moving into the school any day of the year, finding funding to the extra things, lack of support from central office. What is great about the article is that it seems to have no "angle". Teachers unions are not the enemy at the school, they copy strategies from some charter schools but ignore others, and they go all out for kids and do not always find success because of their own fault or the circumstances of the child's life. Really an amazing read and I hope that folks in the policy field, because their own experience in actual schools was most likely rather fleeting, give it a read. It would help them understand what impact certain policies have in a real school trying hard to improve.