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Better Listening for Mindful Leaders

"In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel 'burnout' setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective." - Dalai Lama

I recently spoke with the HR Director of a San Francisco Bay Area company regarding providing executive coaching for the company CEO and other leaders. She asked some very insightful questions to determine fit. She wanted to know how I worked with different personality styles, and my methods for initiating change in thinking and behavior.

The HR Director and I spoke about my approach to coaching, and my belief that possessing a psychological understanding of human behavior based on neuroscience and self-awareness are important competencies for coaching executives. We also spoke of the need for her organization to create a high involvement culture where innovation and creativity flourishes.

The HR Director is interested in collaborating with me to help senior executives improve their listening skills, and get the most out of their executive coaching programs. We further discussed how company leaders could benefit by working with an executive development expert, and emotional intelligence and mindfulness-based executive coach.

"If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is.  If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there's room to hear more subtle things - that's when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It's a discipline; you have to practice it." - Steve Jobs

The Three Levels of Awareness

Mindful leaders are focused and attentive to other people. Their rapt attention allows them to be fully engaged in a conversation without the mind wandering. It takes mindful presence.

Level One Awareness has an internal focus on oneself. You may only half hear and see what is happening around you as your internal train of thought monopolizes your attention
Level Two Awareness has an external focus on the person or people you are with. You are fully open and receptive to colleagues. You are not distracted by internal thoughts, and are in the here-and-now rather than speculating on what will happen next.
Level Three Awareness is directed towards the person or people you are with, but goes beyond this. You don’t just pick up what they are doing or saying; you pick up on all sorts of other things - body language, inflections in the voice, pauses and hesitations, dynamics. You have a sixth sense and an increased sense of presence.

Listening Inquiry Questions

The following are some questions you might ask in an attentive and mindful workplace conversation. Of course, you need a trusting relationship.

  1. I am getting the perception you are not listening.  If I am off, let me know.  If I am on, let me know.
  2. If the person says “yes…you are right…I am not listening….I am distracted”, then say “How does your not listening during our conversation also show up in your work and personal life?”
  3. Name the emotion you feel when someone is not listening.
  4. Paint the scenario for me. When someone is truly listening, how do you know it?
  5. What great listeners are your role models? How can you pick up on some of their listening traits?
  6. What would be the perfect environment that would allow you to listen deeply to others?
  7. What habits do you need to change in order to strengthen your listening skills?
  8. If you do have a lack of focus, have you spoken to your physician about this?  If not, when will you?
  9. What would be possible for your team/your relationships at home/your company if you were listening to the greatest level possible?
  10. What one skill could you improve, starting today, that would improve your listening?
  11. When someone comes to you with a complaint, if you get defensive, what is your plan to sit calmly and listen? (Do you need to take a break to the bathroom to gather yourself together, etc.?)
  12. What gifts and assets do you have which can help you with your listening skills?
  13. What do you believe about listening? What is your philosophy on the topic of listening?
  14. What is the dollar amount you may lose if you don’t improve your listening skills?

Activities to Enhance Listening

Self-Observation: Ask the person to observe himself listening without judgment and to write, blog or podcast about his view.

Busy City: Ask the person to sit in a busy city or busy restaurant, and when something is spoken that “perks him up”, ask him to jot down what the subject was about.

Non Interruption, Pause, Question: For one week, ask the person to not interrupt the speaker, to pause for 3 seconds after the speaker finishes talking and then to stay in question mode.

Clarification/Repeating Exercise: Ask the person to practice with a trusted family member or colleague.  Ask the person to listen to a story without interruption, and then repeat back what he heard. Ask for feedback from the speaker.

Assessments for Better Listening

Time Mastery Profile: Download a Sample Time Mastery Profile

Personal Listening Profile: Download a Sample Listening Profile

The Listening Oral Interview 360 Degree Feedback: Download a Sample Listening 360

Additional Resources

Look Like You’re Listening by Marshall Goldsmith

Are You Listening to Me? by Richard Bierck

The Art of Listening by Eric Frohmm

Are You Really Listening by Paul J., Ph.D. Donoghue and Mary E. Siegel

Listening is Critical in Today’s Multicultural Workplace by Roger O. Crockett

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to become better listeners? Mindful leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I an attentive listener who stays focused in the moment?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their transformational high performance leadership development program.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage  and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Trusted Advisor to Senior Leadership Teams

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching

For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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