August 28, 2018

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Andrew Bergen

Remembering to Listen

I live in Canada. Currently, our government is involved in a disagreement with another nation regarding a tweet that was disagreeable. I’m not here to discuss the merits of either side of the issue at hand. A few days ago, I was listening to an interview on the radio with the former Canadian ambassador to China, David Mulroney, as he was discussing his perspective on the matter. One of his points was striking to me. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), that nations have become accustomed to speaking their minds to each other, have become ‘preachy.’ He further said that he is noticing that the most critical skill in international diplomacy is fading from use – the skill of listening. He believes that good relationships with global partners centers around a government’s ability to listen.

I thought about his words in the context of my work with boards. It strikes me that the act of listening is central not only to a nation’s work with its partners, but also to a board’s work with its owners. Boards serve as a voice for the owners regarding the direction the organization must take. Often, boards spend time informing the owners of the direction they have decided – which turns into a public relations campaign to convince the ownership of the merits of their leadership.

However, the moral imperative for a board is much deeper. How can a board know in which direction to steer an organization if it doesn’t understand the values of the ownership – the values of the group on whose behalf it is governing? This requires diligent, planned linkage with owners – with the fundamental practice of simply listening to them.

Is your board engaged in a planned and thoughtful approach to connect with the ownership? Are you asking questions to understand what their values are so that you, in turn, can translate that into effective direction for the organization? Without this, boards risk becoming preachy and disconnected from those to whom they are accountable  and from whom they derive their authority.

 

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