New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backed listening in his first speech to the party conference today.
He said: “I don’t believe anybody has a monopoly on wisdom – we all have ideas and a vision of how things can be better. I want open debate, I will listen to everyone, I firmly believe that leadership is listening.”
In supporting the idea of the leader as listener, I’m convinced that Corbyn is backing a winner – an idea whose time has come.
Listening as a source of competitive advantage is something that’s been talked about for ages by people who know their stuff.
For example, management guru Tom Peters is unequivocal in this video from 2009:
All the sharpest techniques for getting stuff done in business – Design Thinking and Agile, for example – rely on effective listening. Consultative sales relies on effective listening.
Now everyone has an opportunity to speak, thanks to social media, we expect our political leaders to listen. And it’s increasingly obvious that mostly, they don’t.
These days, leadership is not about announcing big goals, visions and mission statements.
We’re in a complex world: real leaders should be probing, listening and then responding (see Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework).
But there’s a snag. Most political leaders, like most business leaders, have built their careers on speaking rather than listening: on taking up space rather than on holding a space for others to speak.
Can Corbyn really break that mould? It will take courage, and it will take skill. I have no data on whether he has either in the necessary quantities, given everything else he has on his plate. For all I know, his statement might be a speechwriter’s platitude.
But if he can truly demonstrate that leadership is listening, we’ll all be the richer for it.