Ask. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

Ask. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

It really just boils down to this sometimes, doesn’t it? As leaders, I think we tend to overcomplicate things every once in a while. Parts of leadership aren’t really that complicated. Employee engagement doesn’t always have to be tantamount to figuring out the DaVinci Code or be the inspiration for an overrated teen punk-rocker’s lame music.

Some of you already know this, but I recently accepted a new position as Chief Culture Officer for an organization. In this role, I have the privilege of leading the charge in the areas of HR, training & development, organizational culture, employee engagement, and so on. I’m super excited about it, and am already starting to dig in and learn more about my new organization’s identity, culture, and brand. I love this process of exploration–of getting the pulse of employees and organizations. I feel like Dr. House sometimes, trying to piece together an organization’s story based on what I hear, see, even feel. I love my work, and right now my work involves a whole lot of asking, listening, and learning.

From time to time in the past, I’ve taken a few knocks for spending what some perceive to be too much time with the other humans in the organization. Frankly, I get it–there’s this thing that tugs at us occasionally, telling us we should be sitting at a desk somewhere working on projects or spreadsheets; and believe me–I know there’s a time and place for that. I just look at it a little differently.

To really know and understand the folks you have the privilege of working with, and to really be able to create a compelling context within which those folks can grow, excel, become loyal employees, and propel the organization forward, you’ve got to connect with them. Ask them questions. Listen to what they say. Watch them in action. Learn–about them as individuals, about the organization, and maybe even (gasp) about yourself. I’ll take it a step further and say it’s our responsibility as leaders to know the folks we’re privileged to lead. And I don’t just mean know their names, titles, and job responsibilities. I mean really know them. Know what makes them tick. Know what makes them come alive. Know what sucks the life out of them. (Hopefully it’s not you.)

But there’s not really a magic formula for that. It’s actually pretty simple a lot of times. Ask. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

10 thoughts on “Ask. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

  • Matt,

    I couldn’t agree more. You have to interact with people. I learn more from wandering the halls and chit-chatting with folks than I ever imagined possible. On one level, they’ll grb me when I walk by and ask me about this or that. But on another, they know that I’m open to interactions with them. That generally makes it easier for folks to come to me with issues.

    Keep up the great work!

    – Anthony

    • That’s awesome, Anthony. It’s all about building real, human relationships with the folks you’re privileged to work alongside. Appreciate your comment!

  • Great article. We should all remember that a true open door policy means it is not only open to receive input from your team, but that it is also open for you to leave your office and go out to witness your team in action.

  • Hello Matt,

    An interesting post and good advice. If leaders are defined by their followers then it makes complete sense for us to get to know them better. What makes them tick, what they excel in, their aspirations, frustrations and so on.

    As ever,

  • Hello Matt… I enjoyed your post. The 2nd to last paragraph is poignant insofar as in my experience here at a major research university leaders might not fully understand what is expected of them. More often than not leaders fail to realize that their purview includes making an effort to get to “know and understand the folks (they) have the privilege of working with…,” i.e. positively engaging their team to constructive ends. Unfortunately, this presupposes a leader understands he/she can actually lead from outside the confines of an office and desk… and that they see their employees as a team. Some leaders may only have their past experience working with a not-so-dynamic leader on which to base their own leadership practice and they’re just practicing what they know. There seems to be a sense here at the university that the more a leader connects with an employee, the more threatened the leader feels by that employee. It’s frustrating to witness and more like: Command. Hide. Stifle. Repeat.



  • Love this Matt. Your last paragraph is right on. Leaders need to do ALL those things, because unfortunately, a lot of them do “suck the life” out of their employees and they don’t even know it. Sad but true. Glad to connect with you. Good stuff, my friend.

    Take CARE.


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