From the desk of Randy Wolken…
President & CEO

Weekly thoughts and insights from MACNY’s President & CEO, Randy Wolken, designed to inspire and provoke thought among leaders within MACNY’s membership.

Leaders listen. And most leaders would say that they are above average at it.  Of course, that is statistically impossible. We can’t all be “better than average” – can we?  Nope.  Most leaders need to work on this skill.  One good way to begin is to remember that both “listen” and “silent” have the exact same letters in them.  And without the capacity to be silent true listening rarely happens. 

So how important is listening?  In a recent study by George Washington University, listening can influence up to 40% of a leader’s job performance.  I actually think that number is low.  All of the great leaders I have worked for and with were outstanding listeners.  And, when they listened, they listened with their whole being.  What you were saying was what mattered most at that moment.  They are not formulating their answers, they are not checking their watches, and they are not thinking about the next meeting or event.  They are in the moment with you.  Period.  It is actually a very special experience to be in their presence.

If listening is so important, why aren’t we better at it?  Because, of all the activities of a leader, I believe great listening is the most difficult.  When we are listening, someone else controls the agenda and the moment.  And leaders, well, they like to lead.  And there in lies the rub, to be a great leader – and listener – you need to be willing to follow others and support them first.  That is what listening is.  It means that the other person’s concerns and interests must be listened to and absorbed and responded to.  Great leaders are great influencers.  Since we can only change our behavior – and influence the behaviors of others – we must be able to connect to what others are thinking, feeling, and doing before we can have any chance of influencing their behavior.  A person can only get that type of information from another person – or from a group – by deep listening.  Therefore, great listeners don’t just use the skill of listening.  They listen to learn, adjust, care, better communicate, and influence others.  Listening for them is not a skill they use sometimes–it is a skill embedded in who they are.  Leaders listen.  Great leaders are great listeners.

 While in the Army and at West Point, I had the honor of serving with some truly great leaders.  These leaders were the type of people willing to give their lives for others in the pursuit of freedom.  Listening and learning and leading – in that order – defined their very character. In our community and within MACNY- The Manufacturers Association, I have also been honored to serve with many outstanding leaders.  Again, they are wonderful listeners.  I aspire to emulate these individuals who believe that leading is a privilege they earn by listening first and then leading. 

Listening better is something we as leaders must aspire to do constantly.  So, ask yourself daily, “was I a great listener today?”  If not, now is a great time to start.