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Book Review: ‘Power Listening’ Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All

by Suleman
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Introduction

Today, businesses compete under extreme globalisation pressure. All businesses strive to find a single know-how or core competency, which gives them a new advantage over the rivals in the same industry; some use unethical methods to do so, while others remain clean by following their company ethics codes to guide their actions. There are many ways by which corporations can improve their chances of survival and in turn enhance profits but these ways always seem elusive to most of them. In other words, it takes a special talent, skill, or competence to maintain that edge once acquired and not let go of it. In essence, this is what business is all about: to stay profitable in order to survive.

This paper deals with one particular skill that most business managers and those who belong to top management levels often forget or do not give too much importance or focus on. It is considered as the most critical skill to be learned by managers, supervisors, and leaders alike who want themselves and their organizations to succeed in what they are undertaking. In his book titled Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, author Mr. Bernard T. Ferrari argues quite forcefully that listening is critical to business success and it is a skill that can be developed and then mastered by almost anyone who wants to.

Book Review on B. T. Ferrari – MGT 307: Power Listening

He had termed it as power listening and it is not just the usual type of listening, but listening actively to what another person is saying and gaining some useful insights from such active listening.  Because of this approach, it is expected a power listener can gain better focus and clarity on the issues and challenges facing a business unit and thereby will be able to make better-informed decisions. A habit like good listening requires hard work indeed.

Discussion

There are many organizational theories being put forward to analyze how some organizations can succeed while others fail despite the best efforts of its leaders and members. It is an important point to note, at this junction, that leaders and their leadership styles can have a big impact on their organizations and followers, members, or employees. There are the two theories about whether leaders are born or made; there are also many leadership styles that are discussed in management books, magazines, and articles. There is plenty of leadership literature that one can read today and that may sound a bit daunting. Leadership is under challenge and needs a paradigm shift to deal with rapid and frequent changes.

Leadership is defined as a relationship based on influence between leaders and their followers who impact each other in reciprocal ways and who in turn intend real changes to be implemented that reflect on their mutual beneficial relationship (Rost 102). What this means is that followers are influenced by their leaders and the leaders in turn are influenced by their own members to a big extent, regardless of what leadership style is being used at the moment. A leader can wear many hats at several times or stages during his leadership tenure but a style must be suited to the followers he is leading. A good leader is not deaf or impervious to what his followers are thinking, saying, or doing; a good leader must respond appropriately.

The constantly changing work environment, the nature of work, industry competition and other factors will force a good leader to suit his leadership style to the context of situation and the type of organizational structure he is leading. In other words, there is a premium put on effective leadership because it is style which can attain organizational goals and success. It is no longer appropriate to use an autocratic or hierarchical leadership style today but one that is more open, democratic, and a bottom-up approach that is reflected in the attitude and also in the behaviour of an effective leader (Kippenberger 6) that is evolving and adaptive.

Experts on organizational behaviour believe that while leadership styles such as a transformational, inspirational, or transactional style do have a bearing on organizational success in terms of motivating people, implementing plans, programs, and policies, providing a direction for the entire organization, and visualizing its core strategic vision, it is the right kind of leadership traits or skills that is suitable for the organization that determines success. A good combination of the needed or essential leadership skills should include the following: motivating people, the giving and conversely, the taking of constructive or positive criticism, delegating responsibility to others, monitoring the progress of a project, and healthy attitude for taking calculated risks for purposes of innovation and survival (Rossiter 8).

Additionally, the good leader has respect for other people, in terms of their opinions, ideas, suggestions, comments, and even complaints. Put differently, a good leader listens to his people no matter what but at the same time, he is constructively competitive without need to alienate his people and followers. A good leader has the intellectual capability to flesh out his ideas, defend these ideas, and argue or debate for their acceptance without bullying or need to threaten, cajole, make empty promises, or even get angry or frustrated. A good leader not only works through people by motivating them and delegating responsibility but also by making followers feel comfortable with him, by making effort to get along with others.

Moreover, good leaders have the sterling qualities which make people trust them and this list includes humility, sensitivity, team player, innovative, creative, visionary, confident, organized, and also street smart, people who do not rely on their academic credentials alone. If one is to put a finger on what one quality is really needed, a good leader has a special skill of listening to what really counts, he keeps his ear to the ground to know what is the latest on any happening or event which can have a bearing on his organization, now or in the future. It is what Bernard T. Ferrari argued about in his book, that highly-successful leaders have this one trait which keeps them on top; his premise is based on common sense and logic.

In this aspect, good leadership implies excellent people-handling skills and it by necessity includes the art of power listening. Leadership is not a one-way street but a two-way communications channel in which leaders and members influence each other in a cyclical manner. The ideas of Ferrari certainly makes sense today as leaders grapple with changes that are rapid and can alter the fate and course of their organizations. Power listening is not just an idle type of listening but something that is constructive and active, in the sense a leader who truly listens does several things, which includes asking the right questions (Ferrari 8).

In addition, a good leader will establish safe and non-threatening environment for the conversation to take place, promote rapport and trust, to focus certain ideas during the listening process, repeating what an employee has just said, be a guide by challenging certain assumptions, and create a sense of urgency or immediacy to a problem so it can be solved right away and not linger on and be the cause of strategic distraction. Power listening can be made into an integral part of organizational culture, so everyone is self-aware. In this case, the whole organization then becomes a learning organization (Marquardt 25). The tasks of management and leadership of any organization can utilize the insights gained from the twin academic professions of sociology and psychology, as both these disciplines require a lot of active listening (Levitt 102) which is to really hear what was said to get the message.

Power listening is an essential skill for effective leadership because it promotes real sense of community by a combination of a shared background and similar identity. This is the required ingredient needed to promote trust in any organization (Kramer & Cook 21). It is the crucial element of effective leadership that is achieved when a leader truly listens and it has been found to encourage people to finish their assigned tasks and go the extra mile even. This gives followers the sense they are being listened to and their opinions given importance by a leader. More importantly, once trust is established, people will willingly follow the leader.

While most people place an emphasis on speaking rather than on listening, there are obvious and less than obvious advantages when a leader takes time to really listen to everyone. It gives him a vantage point with regards to various opinions and suggestions; from it he will gain fresh ideas and insights that can propel him and his followers to new heights of success and ensure their own survival in a world of rapid change. When a leader listens and is not proud or obstinate enough to outside ideas other than that of his own, then an attitude of flexibility and openness is established that will make any upcoming change meaningful. This was the essence of a wonderful book on listening, about a group of penguins whose iceberg they were on is rapidly melting due to global warming and threatens their survival. Were it not for the leaders’ who were open to the urgency of the problem facing their colony of penguins,  their entire group may not have been made aware of the threat (Kotter & Rathgeber 8).

Effective leadership requires a special skill which is the art of power listening as it is now more challenging to lead people of various ethnic backgrounds due to higher diversity. In most situations (in any organization), people, workers, and followers are not homogeneous any more. The more diverse a group, the more a leader has to listen intently to what a person is saying, who is perhaps trying to relay an important message or impart a different viewpoint. It is never a bad policy to listen to anybody who wants to speak his mind. A safe environment that fosters listening can in turn encourage cooperation (Gurin, Nagda & Zuniga 211).

Poor listening lends itself prone to bad decisions while power listening enhances the chances that a right decision will be chosen among a variety of available options. This is what makes organizations successful and leaders more effective because the leader will be able to gather the needed information to make the right decision. This is applicable in whatever type of situation and organization there is (business, social, or political, as long as it is democratic).  This is what servant-leadership is all about, having better relationships (Carollo 82).

Overall, the book by Ferrari can be said to have some merit. But what is discussed in his book are pretty obvious points to some people although some people today are deaf due to rapid progress, incessant changes, and irreversible globalization pressures. Perhaps the book is useful in the sense it gives a timely reminder to people and leaders to take time to listen. It is an extremely useful and practical guide for anyone aspiring to be a leader someday, by the principles in which a leader can be meld in terms of developing a leadership identity that is lasting and collaborative; leadership is an exercise in unequal power relationship (Kornives et al. 594). The book is useful as it draws insights from sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, and organizational theorists in how to properly lead any organization.

Conclusion

Reading the book by Ferrari is a good mental exercise and at the same time provides good insights into what makes a leader successful in any organizational setting. The book is a good eye-opener of sorts, because most people think leaders are made when in fact, anybody can learn power listening as one essential skill most critical to business success. It does not in any way detract from the intelligence of a reader when an author merely restates the obvious. On the contrary, being reminded of what is an essential skill is necessary today’s world.

The practical value of the book is to serve as guide in leadership and even in life as it reiterates how people have lost the art of listening. Power listening has the beneficial impacts of strengthening human relationships, enhancing much better communications, and improving understanding of what is presently going around us. The book is highly recommended for any person wishing to become a leader someday, it is just light reading but contains nuggets of a wisdom culled from various academic disciplines and common sense. It offers a broader view of leadership, how effective leaders can lead by serving others, how mutual trust can be best gained, and how to develop empathy that promotes understanding and cooperation.

Works Cited
  • Carollo, Sandy. “Beyond Dialogue: The Nexus of Active Listening and Servant-leadership.” The International Journal of Higher Education and Democracy 2 (2011): 80-93. Print.
  • Ferrari, Bernard T. Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All. New York, NY, USA: Penguin Books, 2012. Print.
  • Gurin, Patricia, Biren A. Nagda, and Ximena Zuniga. Dialogue Across Difference: Practice, Theory, and Research on Intergroup Dialogue. New York, NY, USA: Russell Sage Foundation, 2013. Print.
  • Kippenberger, Tony. Leadership Styles. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Print.
  • Kornives, Susan R., Julie E. Owen, Susan D. Longerbeam, Felicia C. Mainella, and Laura  Osteen. “Developing a Leadership Identity: A Grounded Theory.” Journal of College Student Development 46.6 (Nov.-Dec. 2005): 593-611. Print.
  • Kotter, John, and Holger Rathgeber. Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding under any Conditions. New York, NY, USA: Macmillan Company, 2005. Print.
  • Kramer, Roderick M., and Karen S. Cook. Trust and Distrust in Organizations: Dilemmas and Approaches. New York, NY, USA: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004. Print.
  • Levitt, D. H. “Active listening and counselor efficacy: Emphasis on one microskill in beginning counselor training.” Clinical Supervisor 20.2 (2001): 101-115. Print.
  • Marquardt, Michael J. Building the Learning Organization: Achieving Strategic Advantage through a Commitment to Learning. Boston, MA, USA: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011. Print.
  • Rossiter, Diane E. Leadership Skills. New York, NY, USA: Ferguson Books, 2004. Print.
  • Rost, Joseph Clarence. Leadership for the Twenty-first Century. Santa Barbara, CA, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1993. Print.

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