the listening leader

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“We must be silent before we can listen. We must listen before we can learn.  
We must learn before we can prepare.  We must prepare before we can serve.  

We must serve before we can lead.”    – William Arthur Ward

We need our time to be silent– to connect to the deep current of our lives so that we can begin to really listen.  Listen to ourselves and to others.

Theory U describes four different levels of listening~

Surface Level     Downloading — My ideas, my thoughts
Open Mind– Hearing data that is dis-confirming from our thoughts.
Open Heart– Empathetic listening
Open Will/Open Spirit– Real presence

I want to share a story told by Paula Underwood that explains one perspective on dropping below the surface to listen more deeply.

If You Really Pay Attention…

When I was a little bitty kiddy, about five, my Dad began a process … anytime somebody came and said something to us, my dad would say, “You remember what he said, honey girl?”  I would tell my father what the person said until I got so good at it that I could repeat verbatim even long presentations of what the person had said.

And he did this all the time.

Finally, one day there was this old gentleman, Richard Thompson. I still remember his name, he lived across the street.  And every time my Dad started to mow the lawn, there came Mr. Thompson. And so I would stand out there.

Dad says, “You might come and listen to this man, honey girl.  He’s pretty interesting.”  And so I listened to him, and then my dad would say, “What did you hear him say?” And I would tell him.

Well, eventually I was repeating all the stories he liked to share with my dad verbatim.  I knew them all by heart.

And my Dad says, “You’re getting pretty good at that.  But did you hear his heart?”  And I thought, what?  So I went around for days with my ear to people’s chest trying to hear their hearts.

Finally my Dad created another learning situation for me by asking my mother to read an article from the newspaper.  He says “Well, I guess if you want to understand that article, you have to read between the lines.”

I thought, “Oh, read between the lines. Hear between the words.”

So the next time I listened to Mr. Thompson’s stories, I tried to listen between the words.  My Dad said, “I know you know his story, but did you hear his heart?” And I said, “Yes.  He is very lonely and comes and shares his memories with you again and again because he’s asking you to keep him company in his memories.”

It just came out of me.  In other words, my heart echoed his heart.

And when you can listen at that level, then you can hear not only the people. If you really pay attention, you can hear what the Universe is saying.

–Paula Underwood, clan mother of the Turtle clan, Iroquois nation

Practice of the Week:

1.  First, assess what kind of listener you are. 

Is it different in each relationship?
What is the quality of your listening with respect to your partner, your children, your parents, your team, your boss, your colleagues?
Are you:
Fully committed?
Distracted– with attention fading in and out?
Anxious– listening and interrupting so you don’t forget what you want to say?
Inattentive– looking everywhere but at the speaker?
Impatient-” Hurry up; I’ve got somewhere to go”?

2.  Practice paying full attention to one person in one conversation.

Stay fully present with them, as if this were the only and most important conversation of your life, as if everything that happened in that conversation really mattered to you.
How did that feel different from your usual behavior?  How did that person react?  What was the outcome?
How would you be able to change your relationship to that individual by listening like this again?

3.  Think about who models listening from presence for you?
We weren’t all lucky enough to have a Dad that taught us this skill like Paula did…but who is a presence champion for you?  Who seems to really be paying attention in your life?


I invite you to look for that champion this week.  Name them– speak to them if you can– ask them about Presence or Listening or Speaking from this place of awareness.


Ask them how they cultivated this skill.  Ask them what difference it has made in their lives.

Happy Listening!