If You Are a Leader, You Better Be A Detective

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

A client, Susan, shared that a new employee, David, was openly critical of the organization’s decision-making process and his teammates. The team was souring on him, and Susan was concerned that she had made a bad hire. When I asked her if this fellow’s concerns were warranted, she shared there was some legitimacy, but how he shared them turned everyone off, including her.

Rather than going in and hard balling it with him, I suggested that she might want to approach this from a detective’s perspective, working to unravel the truth.

And for that, she would have to go into “full listening mode.” Of course, David’s behavior was inappropriate, and it leads one to ask why he was acting in this manner. Susan and the team had no ideas, and I suspect that David doesn’t know either. He left little space for others to inquire, as the emotional response that his behavior evoked kept the team from listening. Susan’s leadership task was to break through and discover what was happening and change it.

I told Susan there were 3 keys to being a super-listening detective

  1. Intentionality: Approach David with a purposeful attitude of understanding. Our intentions guide our behavior and if she went in with an approach of “straightening him out,” that would create a different experience if instead she approached the situation wanting to understand.
  2. Stay in the moment: Finding a way to be in the moment to maintain our balance, even in the face of hearing something that sparks an emotional reaction. This mean finding the right tool. For Susan, that was to focus on her breathing and returning to it, like a home base that always provides a sense of security and confidence. For others, it might be feeling the floor beneath our feet or holding a pen and feeling its shape in their hands
  3. Be Curious: Approach the discussion with an air of curiosity and that detective’s mindset. What is behind David’s behavior? This is an intelligent guy, and his behavior seems out of sorts to who he is? Or is it? Either way, a deeper examination of what he was saying provided Susan with the needed information.

Susan found out that David was feeling insecure in his new role and that his previous boss told him that a leader asserts himself and makes their position known. David began to acknowledge that he was feeling a bit overwhelmed After their meeting, he sent a note to Susan thanking her for her time and for truly listening to him. He told her that he could see he was being a bit of a jerk and was going to modify his actions. At the next meeting, he apologized to the team and told them he would be a better partner for the work.

Susan was shocked by how little she did and how much impact her actions had on David. He was an intelligent guy, and by giving him the space to be heard, he recognized, on his own, the steps he had to take to remedy the situation.

A perfect leadership action by Susan. Get in, get out and get it done—all by being a detective and using the skill of listening.

Listening is a powerhouse skill that any leader or team can learn. It has a low investment and high payoff. Let’s chat about how you and your team can become better listeners and get more done.

© Richard Citrin 2022

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