How to Listen More Effectively

The election shouting may end this week—hopefully—but the feeling that no one is listening to us is likely going to linger. And not only in the political arena but at work too.

Indeed, experts say the US presidential election season, which has lasted two years, only mirrored a growing feeling among workers that their leaders talk at them, not with them. That feeling only magnified at work when video calls and masks became routine during the pandemic. “Leaders and employees are stuck in a communication cycle of giving information and providing updates instead of really connecting,” says Dennis Baltzley, Korn Ferry’s global solutions leader for leadership development.

It doesn’t help that many people, according to years of research, aren’t great listeners in the first place. That’s particularly true when the topic involves something distressing or uncomfortable, as has been much of the conversation between employees and leaders this year.

With that in mind, Korn Ferry searched for a few ways to help managers at all levels—not to mention one colleague to another—become more effective listeners.

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The Power of Being Authentic

By Gary Burnison, originally posted to Korn Ferry Institute

Basketball practice was over. As the other kids waited outside the gym doors for their parents to pick them up, I started walking in the other direction—telling my teammates I had someplace else to be.

The truth, though, was I always asked my dad to meet me a few blocks away. It was the early 1970s, and I didn’t want anyone at school to see my dad’s car—a 1956 Buick with a rusted bumper that belched blue clouds of exhaust.

My dad had gone bankrupt a couple of years before and we had no money. I hated going to the grocery store and always tried to pick the checkout line with the fewest people so no one would see us using food stamps.

The car, though, was just as bad for a teenager trying desperately to fit in and not stand out for the wrong reasons. As I slunk low in the seat of that old Buick, my dad knew what was going on—and I knew that he knew. But we never talked about it. He just let me be.

Today, of course, I’d love to have that old Buick to restore. Even more important, I wish I could have one more chance to open that car door and sit up tall and proud beside my dad. But that was beyond what this 13-year-old could do. I was too embarrassed to know who I truly was.

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Why Vulnerability Is A CEO’s Secret Weapon

Why Vulnerability Is A CEO’s Secret Weapon

5 Credibility Killing Stories You Should Avoid

By Dr. Mark Goulston; originally published in The Business Journals on February 9, 2018. 

If you have read some of my previous articles, you know that I often make a more compelling case for something by pointing out the “Don’ts” to cause you to wake up to their destructive power if you’re doing them.

For instance, saying that leaders should engender trust, confidence and respect is so obvious as to be yawn, yawn, non-compelling. However, ask people the effectiveness of a leader if he/she instead engenders distrust, doubt and embarrassment, and you’ll receive a powerful, “They will fail!” (and sometimes, “And I’ve got one like that!”)

On this occasion, I am focusing on the concept of storytelling. More and more, we hear about preaching this to companies and imploring CEOs and others to increase their influence through effective storytelling. That said, ROI CEOs (and aren’t they all?) and salespeople often pooh-pooh storytelling as too “woo woo.”

Well, there is another way to make a case for the power of storytelling by using the power of negatives and of the “Don’ts.”

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Stories: Effective Leaders’ Must-Have Tools

By Roger Dean Duncan, originally posted to DuncanWorldwide.com on January 15, 2018. 

Good stories have a power all their own. They can make complex issues understandable. They can give people a sense of community. They can call people to action in ways they never imagined.

As a young journalist many years ago I covered large events ranging from business conventions to religion conferences to political rallies. I always watched and listened to the speakers very carefully. But most revealing was what I observed in the audiences. When a speaker said something like “Let me illustrate with a story,” the audience would always become more alert and attentive. It was as though the listeners were thinking “Okay, here comes the really good stuff.”

So why don’t more leaders have storytelling in their toolbox of skills? That’s always been a mystery to me. But one thing’s for sure: the value of good stories and effective storytelling cannot be overemphasized.

Kevin Cashman certainly knows this. In the updated edition of his fine book Leadership from the Inside Out he highlights many of the whys and wherefores of good storytelling. He shared some of his insights in a recent interview.

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Leading with Inspiration

Originally published to Korn Ferry Institute on September 24, 2017.  

In his book, “Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader in Life,” Senior Client Partner Kevin Cashman writes about how you have to grow yourself as a person in order to grow yourself as a leader. In this excerpt, Cashman explains how to use stories to inspire action. 

Stories elevate the mind and the heart to go beyond what is, to mobilize us and others to reach new possibilities. Annette Simmons, group process consultant, understood this dynamic when she wrote, “People do not want information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith—faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.” Science has demonstrated that stories, especially stories that sustain our attention with a narrative arc and some tension, have the unique force to move us intellectually and emotionally at the same time.

In “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling,” Harvard Business Review, scientist Paul Zak explains that his lab discovered more than a decade ago that the neurochemical oxytocin is necessary for humans to feel safe. Zak says, “It does this by enhancing a sense of empathy.” Our brain produces more of it each time we experience kindness and trust.

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