The Art of Listening and Leadership

Bill Clinton Shows The Way

By Osama El-Kadi 2007

I would like to share with you a great story that taught me so much about the Art of Listening and Leadership in one minute.

I attended a two days Leaders in London Conference at the end 2006 in London.

The speakers’ line-up was impressive.

Bill clinton and the art of listening

Tuesday started with Mr Mikhail Gorbachev (in person), Professor Marvin Zonis, Terence Conran, Alan Leighton, Lou Gerstner, Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard and many others including the one and only Bill Clinton (live via Satellite).

On the Art Of Listening and Leadership – “Something I have been trying to learn for the last 25 years” I want to share with you the lesson and the leadership by example that Bill Clinton tough us all in the conference on the art of listening.

After the president made his keynote speech, he started taking questions: I asked one too, the president and the audience were visibly amused by my name especially after assuring them that “I am the nice one” and "I only work for British Gas".

Among the attendees there was a lady who didn’t speak good English. Earlier in the day when she was given the microphone to ask a question, she went on and on for few minutes and no one understood what she was trying to ask or say and everyone laughed.

When it came to Clinton question time, she raised her hand again to ask a question, the moderator warned her to be quick and to the point.

The lady took the Microphone and started to rumble on and on. Again it seemed that no one understood what she was saying, people started to laugh, boo, clap their hand for her to stop.

After few minutes of this saga the moderator cut her microphone off and gave the question time to some one else.

People were cheering his decision to move on after all no one wanted to be embarrassed in front off the great president.

While all this saga was taking place and all of us laughing and disapproving of this behaviour from the lady, only one person was NOT laughing, Bill Clinton. In fact he leaned forward to the camera and put his hand on his ears and focused intently and seriously.

30 minutes passed while he answered few other questions from the audience and when the time came to close, he said very politely:

Wait Rene, before you close.. Earlier in the day a lady asked me a long question and in fact it was a very important one... I would like to talk about that for a minute.

The hall dropped into silence, Bill Clinton continued by saying, "in fact the lady made a very important point", and he went on to summarise her point which was about families in the developing world (none of the audience knew that).

Bill Clinton asked to be allowed to answer this important question, which he himself put together from her scattered little talks before we the audience interrupted and stopped her.

Now I began to understand something very important at the hand of the guru of leadership.

What he was trying to teach us by his actions on the Art of Listening, that when we JUDGE any one or any thing, we stop listening.

It seems that the act of judgment trigger some chemicals in our ears that physically stops us from listening.

Prejudgment seems to be the mother of all sins on this planet.

There seem to be no other solution to world problems but the forgotten art of listening and stopping judgement before we listen to what others have to say.

This is what I learned that day and I hope it stays with me for ever.

This was also an impressive leading by example performance by a world leader who is not only very intelligence but also listens very seriously to what people are saying.

I will never forget this incident which taught me a lot about leadership and what listening is all about and here I am humbly sharing my experience with you hoping that it add a little to our understanding of the Art of listening.

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