Watch & Listen: That's Leading?!

When the unexpected happens and you don't know what to do, what is your first impulse?  

For some of you, it is to move; to just do something.  For some others, it is to freeze; to do nothing.

Recently, I was at youth group event, which included my son, where I am a volunteer leader when I received the phone call that my father-in-law had died.  It wasn't as if I didn't know my father-in-law was going to die eventually, knowing he had been battling many serious health complications for more than a year. But the call from my wife still shocked me. I didn't know what to say to my wife on the phone. I found myself searching for the right words to say, but didn't know what they were, so I just froze. I ended the conversation with my wife, not remembering what I said to her. Now I had to tell my son his grandfather was gone.

I knew how much my father-in-law meant to my son. Questions raced through my head: What do I say? What if I say it wrong? Will he be scarred for life? Will he hate me for it?  Will I lose this majorly important follower in my life like I just lost my father-in-law?  In that moment, I just acted. I pulled him aside and told him. He reacted by crying out, "No!" I will never forget that.  In that half second, true love was vividly on his mind; he knew that he would no longer be able to talk to or see his grandpa, one of two people that my son thought really understood him. It hurt me deep inside to have to share this news with him.

At the time I am writing this, I am now on day three after finding out about our family's loss,  and as I shared in the last blog, I reached out to many trusted friends and family to better understand what to do. I asked them how I could lead well in this situation. The best answer I received from many of them was to just watch and listen.  To be honest, when they told me this, I thought, "Really? That's all?  Seriously?"  

Some of you may think that watching and listening is easy, but I saw this as a tough challenge. Like many leaders, I start to solve problems, hurts, challenges and situations after about the fifth word in the first sentence when people begin to share, when what they really need is someone to listen to them.  I have found that my instinct to solve a problem or challenge right away may not always be the best instinct to have.  I have discovered this most in my marriage, but also in the workplace and in leading my children. Through challenging experiences like this one, I have come to recognize this area of importance, and it is still a struggle for me—one that I have to battle against everyday.  

One key component is that one has to be present in order to watch and listen. This means both in mind and physical presence. This isn't always easy when there is a good football game on or when you have so much to do. In these times, you can either: one, build rapport with those you lead; or two, become a leader that they won't respect, only following you only because of your position.  

The next time you or one of your people goes through a challenging time (although this is good to practice every day), make an effort to listen more and speak less. You will be amazed how much you can influence by just being quiet and listening. Be attentive and be close enough to be in the right place at the right time. Do this and you are sure to gain deeper relationships with those that mean the most to you, and in turn, those relationships will grow your influence with those you lead and those that are observing your leadership.  

I would love to hear your feedback—whether you agree or disagree, if you have a story to tell of when you failed at doing this or, even better, when you succeeded.  Please use the comment section below or shoot me an email.  This way, I'm learning from you as well.