Joe Learns to Listen

| July 10, 2013 | 0 Comments

Photo Purchased By Elle from istock.

This blog entry is adapted from the book Flywheel: Transformational Leadership Coaching for Sustainable Change(Corwin, 2013) by Elle Allison Napolitano. All Rights Reserved.

Following a talk I gave on the topic of leadership coaching, a school superintendent in the audience took me aside to share a personal story. “Joe” told me he was lucky to work with many people who were true leaders in every sense of the word. This wasn’t always the case however, and as Joe tells the story, he takes most of the blame. He said, “I knew I worked with folks who were smart, well educated, and experienced. And yet, they were always incredibly busy and overwhelmed. They were good at putting out fires, but they did not build the future.” One day, Joe went to work with a bad case of laryngitis. He literally could not talk, he could only listen. He made a sign for his office door that said, “I have laryngitis and I can’t talk, You can still meet with me, but all I can do is listen—sorry!”

When the first few of his colleagues stopped by and joked with Joe about how good it felt to talk when he could not do anything but listen, he smiled and nodded. But by the time the tenth person came by and made the same joke, it suddenly dawned on him: he was a poor listener and everyone knew it but him. As the day went on something else became clear to Joe. The people he worked with were full of good ideas, creativity and passion for their work. It’s just that he never listened long enough for them to get that far in the conversation. That day, Joe made a commitment to learn how to listen, taking the first steps to experience what it means to be a leader who is also a coach who brings out the best in others.  “I have to wonder,”Joe told me with a shake of his head, “What did I prevent people from contributing before I saw myself as a coaching leader?”

Leaders who coach utilize a set of communication skills that, when packaged together with the intention of “coaching,” provide a framework for powerful conversations. Powerful conversations become transformational when they inspire coachees toward meaningful action, excellence, and outcomes. These coachees experience themselves as leaders; as people and teams that are innovative, courageous, and obsessed with making a visible and lasting difference.

So what are the communication skills mastered by the coaching leader? As superintendent Joe discovered, the foundation of coaching is listening with complete presence and devotion to the goals of the coachee. Other skills include paraphrasing, summarizing, asking clarification and detail questions, and asking open ended questions that introduce theories and put big ideas on the table for pondering and discussion. Leaders who coach also use a whole host of subtle skills such as recognizing assumptions, thinking systemically, and tuning into prevailing emotional and social force fields. Thus, leaders who coach discover that coaching their peers and colleagues is both a disciplined science and art that improves with practice. The good news is that all of these skills make every conversation better, whether with a colleague or with your kids. As such, you get to practice them all the time.

To get started, try this today: Listen longer in at least three conversations, noticing when you want to give your opinion or provide a solution. Tell yourself, “listen, just listen.” Then, fall back to silence, listen, and see what happens. Please join us on August 2, 2013 for a complimentary webinar on the skills of leaders who coach. Drop me a note  to let me know how it went. I look forward to hearing your stories!

Best Always,


To Register for the Complimentary Webinar, click here:

Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

August 2, 2013:

9:00 AM Pacific Time
10:00 AM Mountain Time
11:00 AM Central Time
12:00 PM Eastern Time

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.



Category: BLOG, Transformational Leadership Coaching, Wisdom in Leadership

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *