"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me". We learn this taunt as kids but unfortunately it is not true, nor should it be. Because negative words, as well as actions, can and do hurt us, we learn early in life to reject their influence on us. This reaction to be resistant to what we don't want to hear can be a detriment to good leadership. An unconscious need to self-protect against hurtful words and actions can create a barrier that prevents leaders from hearing all that is necessary to effective leadership. To lead, it is important to be able to accept all feedback, recommendations, ideas, input without protecting against what is being offered. Accepting requires listening, reflecting and engaging with what is said even if it is critical or contradictory to one's own thoughts. By listening in this way, a leader provides himself/herself new insights into what is being shared.
If open listening is a useful way for leaders to gain support from potential detractors, what makes it so difficult to practice? To listen openly, one must be vulnerable to the possibility of internal change. "What if what I've been asking people to do doesn't work? What if my idea is based on a faulty belief system? What if my experience isn't sufficient to help me through this challenge?" By engaging with our soft spots, our vulnerability, we enter the DISCOMPFORT ZONE. This is the place where there are no quick or easy answers. Hanging out in the discomfort zone may feel like the wrong place to be as a leader, but it is here that the a leader's wisdom begins to emerge. This is the place a leader can try out "what ifs?" - what if I thought about this plan differently? what if Tom's idea could work? what if I was reacting based on something in my past? What do I need to change about me? By asking these deeper questions a leader gains the inner knowledge that provides the insight and foresight to lead.
If a leader cannot be vulnerable, he/she cannot learn or adjust to the information and knowledge that makes good leadership possible.