By Allen Haynes June 17, 2024

Listen to the podcast.

Andy Stanley (00:02):
Welcome to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast from the vault. Before we get into today’s content, I wanted to let you know that this month is your last chance to claim your free ebook Rise Up and Lead Well from our friends at belay. As you know, being in charge of any organization larger, small requires spending your valuable time and energy on the things that matter most and rise up and lead well helps busy leaders reclaim their time and make a clear plan for maximizing productivity. Let’s face it, the sooner we’re able to accept the fact that it’s okay to ask for help, the more sustainable our work days become. Learn valuable insights about how leveraging an assistant will change your life and maximize your time with exceptional US-based virtual assistants, accounting professionals and social media managers, belays Flexible Staffing Solutions will give you time back to focus on doing what only you can do to claim your free download of Rise Up and Lead. Well just text Andy to 5 5 1 2 3. That’s a NDY to 5 5 1 2 3. And now let’s dive into today’s content from the vault.

Lane Jones (01:11):
Welcome to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, a conversation designed to help leaders go further faster. On today’s podcast, we’ll talk about a skill that every leader needs to develop. Andy, I think one of the things that has really set your leadership apart for many is that your desire is that everything you teach not only be inspiring, but it really be helpful too.

Andy Stanley (01:33):
Yeah, I think one of the things that I loved as a young leader was finding either authors or speakers who didn’t just give a philosophy of leadership but gave me the nuts and bolts. And so we’ve really tried to make that the hallmark of our leadership podcast and really everything we do in terms of leadership.

Lane Jones (01:49):
Well, today’s topic is certainly helpful.

Andy Stanley (01:51):
Yeah. Today I want to talk about listening. You said it’s a skill that’s important for every leaders. Obviously it’s important for everybody, but I think it’s even more important for leaders because we have a tendency not to listen because after all, we’re the leaders. Everybody’s supposed to listen to us.

Lane Jones (02:06):
Well, Andy, what do you see as the connection then between leadership and listening?

Andy Stanley (02:11):
Well, intuitively the connection is leaders are responsible for making decisions, and in order to make good decisions, you’ve got to have good information. And I tell leaders all the time, look, our goal isn’t to make all the decisions. It’s just to make sure that all of our decisions are good. And you can’t make consistently good decisions if you don’t have the pertinent information. And you don’t ever get that information until you decide to stop and listen to the people around you.

Lane Jones (02:34):
But you’re not talking about a leader listening to everyone,

Andy Stanley (02:37):
All the leaders listening know that we need to listen. What we need to be intentional about is creating systems and even org charts that allow us to have access to the people that we need to listen to and that the people we need to listen to have access to us. And if we’re not intentional about that, we end up listening to the same handful of people over and over and over. And as you know, and as every leader, information gets filtered. We’ve talked about that before. I don’t think people do that necessarily on purpose, but especially at critical junctures and the critical events in the life of an organization, we have to have great information, which means we have to listen, which also means we have to create a mechanism to make sure we’re able to listen to the right people at the right time. So if a

Lane Jones (03:19):
Leader isn’t careful, they can become insulated.

Andy Stanley (03:22):
Yeah. In fact, I have people around me like many leaders do who that’s part of their job is I can’t read every single email, every single letter. I can’t be dragged into the minutiae of everything as it relates to our organization. And yet there are people in my organization as there are in our leaders organizations who feel like I’ve got to get to him. I’ve got to get this information to him or her. So consequently, insulation is critical to allowing us to do our jobs. At the same time. Great leaders develop the skill and I think almost the intuition to know when do I need to reach beyond the insulation I’ve built into the organization to listen to people who are two or three or four layers into the organization closer to where the action is again, especially when it comes to critical events. But I think the tide or the evolution or the flow in organizational life is to pull us away from that and just to listen to the same people over and over. And again, probably nine out of 10 times that’s not a problem. But there are events and there are seasons in the life of every organization where we not only have to listen more carefully, we have to listen deeper into the organization.

Lane Jones (04:32):
So in that case, if we’re not careful as leaders, we only get the good news or the news people want us to get.

Andy Stanley (04:38):
Yeah. And one of the dirty little secrets of leadership is we really only want the good news. Again, this is something we’ve talked about two or three times, but it’s something we need to come back to over and over because every leader, especially the busier we get and the more complex our organization is, we love good news. We don’t love not good news, and the people around us know we love good news and we don’t love the not good news. And so again, if we’re not intentional about creating an organization or a system that allows us, and I guess in some cases forces us to listen to the things that we really don’t want to hear, then we can’t make good decisions because again, good decisions are made with good information. Good information comes from people who are willing to give you all the information, not just the good information land.

As you’ve heard me say so many times here, the last thing I want people to do is walk around with a, what would Andy do mentality and try to guess what I would do. And in the same way, I don’t want people walking around trying to guess what I want to hear because when people try to guess what I want to hear and tell me what I want to hear, then I don’t have the information I need to make good decisions. And that’s true for every leader and every leader. We all have some really well-intentioned, talented, great people around us that try to guess what we would want done. And unfortunately that morphs into guessing what we want to hear. And again, that filter is dangerous, which means we need to learn as leaders to listen past that. And I think part of it is intuition, and then part of it is I think we just have to build some things into the organization that make sure on one hand that we listen and at the same time that the right information gets to us. And this is so critical in organizational life.

Lane Jones (06:14):
Okay, so you said gather the right people, those that’ll tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear and then listen to

Andy Stanley (06:21):
Them. Exactly. Good leaders know that they’re not the smartest people in the organization, they’re just the leader. We’ve talked about this on two or three occasions as well. I’m the pastor here basically because I got here first and we were here to start the church. Lane, you and I have sat through some events at our church where we’ve looked at each other and said, I wonder if we could get hired here now. I mean, I feel like to some extent our organization has gone so far past us and certainly past even our original vision for this organization. So we know you and I, we know we’re not the smartest people in this organization. And so I think every leader has to recognize that the implication being, if I’m not the smartest person in the organization, I certainly need to listen to the smartest people in the organization. And that brings us back around to the importance of listening. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that who we listen to will influence what we do as leaders. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that what we listen to or the information we get influences what we do as leaders. So again, it’s critical that we create pathways to information and then that we’re intentional about taking advantage of those avenues.

Lane Jones (07:26):
Alright, Andy, it’s time. I guess to move to the helpful part then. So how do you get the right people around you?

Andy Stanley (07:31):
That’s actually easy. You just listen to them.

Lane Jones (07:35):
Okay, you’re going to have to give me just a little bit more than that.

Andy Stanley (07:38):
Well, yes, it sounds simple, but the truth is leaders, great leaders are attracted to environments where their ideas and opinions are valued and heard. So when a leader becomes a good listener, they attract people who have good things to say and they attract leaders. Now, that doesn’t mean everybody who’s attracted to a leader is a good leader, but great leaders, second tier, third tier leaders, they love environments. They love organizations where they feel like their opinions are heard. So it’s not necessarily intuitive, but when I say it, it makes sense. The better we are as listeners and the more sincerely we lean into the ideas and the opinions of other people, even when they bump up against some of our most deeply held values, that’s attractive to good leaders. I mean, anyone listening to our podcast right now, regardless of where they are in the organization, all of us would be attracted to an environment.

If it’s a great company doing great things in the world or selling a great product, we believe in we’re going to be attracted to the organization where we are heard. And there are many, many leaders who don’t feel like they have to be number one in an organization or department or division, but again, they’re going to be more attracted to and more inclined to stay somewhere where they’re listened. So listening really becomes, listening actually creates a, that’s magnetic to better leaders, which means you get better information, which means you make better decisions. So it really is a matter of learning to listen in order to attract people worth listening to.

Lane Jones (09:06):
And I’m guessing the opposite would be true as well, that the less we listen to our team, really the less they have to

Andy Stanley (09:12):
Offer. Absolutely. I would guarantee you there are many listeners in our audience who left positions, who left companies, who left organizations, maybe who left an industry simply because they realized nobody’s listening to me and I have insight, I have helpful information, but people are so caught up in their own egos or so caught up in the way they’ve always done things. My ideas are never going to get to the place where they’re going to be implemented. So consequently, I’m going to go somewhere else because I have good ideas and I want to go somewhere, not where I have to be in charge of everything, but where at least somebody’s going to listen to me. So again, listening creates a culture that attracts and keeps better leaders or lane, I guess the short way of saying all that is leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing helpful to say. You think about that leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people with nothing helpful to say because the people with something helpful to say are eventually going to drift into organizations or departments or divisions or other industries where people will listen to what they have to say. So in some ways, listening is a self-fulfilling prophecy, refusing to listen is as well.

Lane Jones (10:20):
Andy, you mentioned earlier that there are ways to create systems to make this possible in your organization. How does that work?

Andy Stanley (10:27):
Well, I think first of all within the organization, there has to be, to use that term, a system that allows a leader to get the brightest and the most strategically minded people around the decision making table. Now, that doesn’t mean they are permanent parts of a leadership team or management team. It just means there has to be flexibility. And this really is a culture thing within an organization. There has to be a way or a system that allows a leader wherever they are in the organization to when they need to pull in the brightest people as it relates to that particular decision, get ’em at the table and ask them the questions in order to get the information they need. Which means, of course, at times the org chart is not your friend, your management team. It may get in the way people on your leadership team may get their feelings hurt.

But if you do this the right way and you do it consistently enough, it creates a culture where everybody in the organization realizes, okay, the goal isn’t to work through the org chart. The goal is to make great decisions, which means we have the flexibility to pull people into a room to leapfrog over direct reports in order to get the right people around the right table to make the right decisions as it relates to a specific issue. So this is a way that a leader can listen deep into the organization without worrying whether or not the information is being filtered on its way up or on its way through. And this is critical. It’s so critical. And in an organization where there hasn’t been that flexibility in the past, this can be very threatening if everything works through lines of authority and org charts, which are important.

I’m not saying we discount or do away with those things, this can be threatening. But in an organization I think like ours where this has been a best practice for many, many, many years, it just becomes part of the way that people think. And even as a point leader in my situation, I have been intentional about empowering my direct reports to meet anytime they want to without me. They don’t have to worry about me opening the door and they’re the three of them sit plotting, I think, Nope, meet when you need to meet and pull the right people into the room. Let’s get the information we need in order to make great decisions. So this really becomes part of a culture, but I think a leader has to develop that, which means he or she needs to be willing to excuse themselves from meetings and empower the people around them to do the same thing they’re doing as it relates to, again, pulling people into rooms, pulling people into offsites to make the decisions that need to be made. Feelings will get hurt, but better decisions will be made, the companies will be more profitable and in the end, everybody wins.

Lane Jones (13:05):
Andy, when you’re pulling together one of these sort of off the grid, ignore the org chart types of meetings, how do you decide? Is there a filter you use to decide who needs to be

Andy Stanley (13:15):
There? And two things, and this is so important. First I always, or I should say, I try to always inform people whose direct reports I’m pulling into one of these meetings. I would call you and say, lane, hey, I am trying to make a decision about whatever, and so I’ve invited, and then I would name the two or three people that report to you so that you don’t hear about it after the fact. Then you have to decide, okay, am I going to say, well, can I come? Are you going to be okay with the fact that I didn’t invite you? So I try to always in terms of communicate through channels of authority or through the org chart, but at the same time not feel like I have to invite my direct reports. And then the second thing is for me, and I think everybody listening gets this, there are people that are closer to the action, closer to the critical event, closer to the whatever it is that makes our organizations run.

There are people that their boots on the ground, they’re there, they’re the sales force, they’re at the cash registers. And as a leader who as our organization grows, becomes three or four or five levels away, there are times I just want to hear from them. It’s not that I don’t trust the information, but there are words and then there are the emotions and the passions associated with words. And sometimes it’s important for me to get not just the information, but the passion and the emotion around the information. And so for me, oftentimes I want people in the listening environment or the, not even the decision-making environment, but the environment where I’m just at least trying to gather information who are closest to where things are actually happening. For me, that’s a big part of that. And again, that’s going to be industry specific, marketplace specific, organization specific, but I just think every leader needs to build into their culture. The flexibility of reaching deep, pulling people into a room and just saying to everybody else, Hey, relax, chill. This is when I’m trying to, this has nothing to do with your job. I just need information. I need it now. And it’s not a matter of not trusting what you’ve told me, just in some cases I want to hear it from myself.

Lane Jones (15:19):
Andy, as you talk about that, it sounds more like the exception to the rule, but I know with your schedule, you have some biweekly meetings that actually followed this principle directly.

Andy Stanley (15:29):
In our organization, the critical event is the weekend worship service, everything rises and falls on how well we do on the weekend. So I have a weekly meeting with what we call our service programming directors from our five Atlanta churches. None of them are direct reports to me, but because the event is so critical, I want to make sure we’re getting that right. And it has nothing to do with me not trusting their supervisors. But because I’m part of what happens on the weekend, it’s important to me that I get, again, boots on the ground information on a weekly basis because it’s a critical weekly event for us. Then in addition to that, twice a month I meet with a second or third, actually third or fourth tier of leadership within our organization that again, are very close to some very critical events for our organization.

I just want to hear from them personally, and I want to give input into those particular areas of expertise because there are areas that I feel like I have something to offer. So again, I went to their supervisors and said, I want to set up a twice a month meeting with this group of leaders. There are no secrets. I’m happy for them to share with you what I share with them, but again, this is just something I want to do because it allows me to gather information that I think is critical. So there are random gatherings like this, and then in my case, there are two regularly scheduled events where I feel like it allows me to listen deeply or deep into the organization.

Lane Jones (16:57):
Andy, there are other things that we have in place in the organization that really set our leaders up to listen deep into the organization.

Andy Stanley (17:03):
Yeah, we’ve talked about some of these before. Our three month and one year evaluations that we allow, ask all of our new employees to do where they basically answer a series of questions about their experience here, and it allows those of us in leadership to listen to our brand new employees and they get an opportunity to tell us, here’s what we’ve experienced. Here’s working, here’s not, here’s what we worry about. Here’s where I think we’re off purpose. Here are things we do in this organization that don’t line up with our mission, vision, and values. And again, when they fill out those questionnaires, it’s great information and it allows those of us at the top of the organization to listen to new employees. In many cases, we’ve never met them or we’ve only met them briefly. We certainly haven’t had a time to sit down and debrief with them.

So we get a three month review of our organization and a one year review of our organization, and it’s something that we’ve systematized that allow us, again, to listen deep into the organization. The other thing we do as a church that I don’t know that there’s an apples to apples comparison to the marketplace is all of our pastors at our Atlanta area churches, and really in all of our churches we’ve created, we have a system of, we call them ministry team representatives. It’s a quarterly meeting where we take our key volunteers, bring them in a room and have about a two hour discussion with them. Now, these aren’t even employees. These are people who really are just giving us their valuable, valuable time just about every weekend or in our critical events, and it’s just an opportunity to get feedback from them as to what their experience is, how can we serve them better as they serve us so well?

And so once a quarter, our campus pastors just sit down in a room with 60 to 70 key volunteers, and we listen, and the questions are designed to get information from them. This isn’t an information sharing environment so much as it is a listening environment. So again, I think in every organization there are ways to create opportunities or systems that allow leaders to listen if leaders are willing to listen. And that’s the point of this podcast. If you’re going to make great decisions, you’ve got to have good information. The only way to get good information is to listen.

Lane Jones (19:12):
Okay. Andy, just to sort of wrap up as you were just doing, we need to listen to the best and brightest and we need to listen deep into the organization. Anything else as we wrap

Andy Stanley (19:21):
Up in wrapping up? I guess I would say this, that as leaders, what we want to hear least is generally what we need to hear the most. What we want to hear least is generally what we need to hear most. And I don’t think any of us are above trying to ignore the things that we don’t want to know are actually happening. Jim Collins talks about turning over the rocks and looking at all the squiggly things underneath, and that’s an extremely powerful visual as we think about listening, because again, if we’re not intentional, if we don’t learn to listen deep into the organization, the information does get filtered. It generally gets better and better as it works its way up to us. If we’re not careful, we won’t get the best information that allows us to make the best decisions. And remember this, leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded with people who have nothing to say or nothing helpful to say. Again, listening, as we said at the beginning, listening attracts good leaders because great leaders want to be in organizations where their opinions are heard. So it really is a leadership dynamic to listen, and at the same time, it just sets us up to be better leaders because we make better decisions.

Lane Jones (20:31):
Andy, thanks so much for taking this time with us today. And thanks to our audience for listening. You will check out Andy, Andy for free audio and video content and more. All designed to help leaders go further faster.

Comments are closed.