- It is more important to listen that to talk...while leaders instinctively know this, it is not an easy practice to put into place. For the many times I wanted to go into depth answering a question, it was more important to answer quickly, write down a thought, and then move the conversation forward with other people's questions and comments.
- There is often more behind the question or comment than one might initially think...asking follow up questions or trying to get clarification on the comment was as important as answering what I thought I might be hearing. Several followup conversations helped to clarify for me (and for the person asking the question) what was really meant and/or needed.
- Criticism of the institution is not criticism of the leader as an individual...it is hard not to take critical comments personally, and yet I had to consistently remind myself that the comments and questions were about the institution, not myself. Leaders who have a hard time separating these two things will either a) never open up the floor to critical comments; or b) drive themselves crazy taking everything personally.
- Everybody has something to say AND needs the space and time to say it...it was great to hear the comments and questions from people who might never speak up in a large meeting or forum. The small, intimate setting where one is surrounded by close colleagues, allows people to be more vulnerable themselves in asking questions that they are thinking about.
- Everybody has something valuable to contribute...many times people asked how they could get involved in the next steps because they had something they wanted to offer. Listening to people in small groups allows for ideas (really great ideas) to be heard and taken to the next level. Because of the input I received, we are now making adjustments to the plan and finding ways to incorporate even more people in the execution of the plan.
- Practice makes (almost) perfect...after 17 different sessions, I now know the strategic plan backwards and forwards, being able to cite specific numbers for specific initiatives - and I am able to articulate the initiatives even more clearly than before. Spending time going over the plan again and again and again has made me an (almost) expert in articulating the plan.
This type of work is hard for a leader, both physically and emotionally...AND it is work that must be done. Spending the time to bring together people and then listening...REALLY listening...can pay big dividends as the organization moves forward. It is my hope and prayer that these type of meetings can take place on a regular basis so that the institution remains strong and healthy.