How to Rescue Low Employee Followership with Advanced Listening Skills


Listening skills are one of the few that we use almost every day, as long as we are in some kind of conversation. For many professionals, it’s a bit like breathing. Until something goes terribly wrong, we don’t notice our level of skill and do little to improve our capacity from one day to the next.

In this article, I make the point that this approach is mistaken, providing a single way (among many) to think about advanced listening skills.

How to Rescue Low Employee Followership with Advanced Listening Skills

Executives are often amazed to discover how much they can accomplish with advanced listening skills. Unfortunately, the path to developing them is shrouded in mystery, resulting in a numbing mediocrity that undermines their best efforts.

If you are an executive (or a professional who aspires to top leadership) you are likely to be blessed with great analytical skills. Plus, you have an ability to think on your feet and quickly put thoughts into words. You are also driven to communicate in powerful ways, recognizing the critical need for a leader to develop committed followers.

If you happen to be a leader who is unable to develop the “followership” you’d like, you probably aren’t thinking of fixing the problem with better listening skills. Perhaps, like many, you assume that they are easy to learn, and not that important. You may believe that you are better than your colleagues, trusting that you wouldn’t be where you are in your career if you weren’t already well above average.

However, consider that the popular definition of “listening” (in a two-person conversation) is limited. Most people define “listening” to be more or less the same as “hearing.” In other words, if you have heard all the words the other person has said, then that’s the same as having good listening skills.

That’s a mistake.

Unfortunately, if you are a smart ambitious person, you may be pretending to listen. See if this fits: While the other person is talking, your bright mind races along, assessing multiple thoughts in a flash. You fill the gap between the end of your last sentence and the start of the next one with your own thoughts. Their voice is little more than background noise.

Therein lies the problem. When you are caught up in your thoughts, you aren’t actually listening – not in a deep way. Instead, you are multi-tasking – giving only what’s called “continuous partial attention.” In other words, you are switching your attention between your thoughts and their words. At your worst, a tiny fraction of your attention is on the other person… your thoughts are far more interesting.

If you have ever been accused of not listening by someone you may be guilty of this habit, which some call “pausing to reload.” Perhaps you defended yourself by repeating every word the other person just said, maybe without skipping a beat. However, this represents the lowest level of listening I mentioned before… “hearing.” According to a number of studies, full communication involves a wider blend of channels: 55% relates to body language, 38% to tone of voice and only 7% to the words spoken. Take this research to mean that when someone reduces communication to just a bunch of spoken sentences they may be missing out on the 93% that’s not resident in the words.

Based on this finding, here is one expanded way to listen that is far more powerful, and actually builds followership.

Listening to Leave the Other Person Satisfied

If you can leave someone in a conversation with the experience of “being heard” you have given a shared gift. This is no generic, fleeting emotion. When the experience takes place for both people, there is a deep sense of fulfillment and connection. It is a oneness that is often present when people fall in love, become good friends in a click or come up with a brilliant idea for a new business.

By contrast, when one or both people feel as if they are not being heard, the outcome is disastrous. Lots of words get repeated. War breaks out.

Fortunately, there are simple techniques to use as remedies. Just ask “Am I getting all that you are saying?” after you have paraphrased their words aloud. Pause, listen and watch to see if they think that you are capturing their words, emotion and intent. Tune into your inner guidance to detect any discrepancies or inconsistencies.

Another useful technique is the practice of meditation. In most forms of the discipline, you learn to ignore your inner thoughts and bring your attention to a single point of focus. Without suppressing any given thought, you train yourself to retain a laser-like focus. In a conversation, this point of focus happens to be the other person and the message they are trying to communicate.

Unfortunately, these are techniques you are unlikely to use under pressure. For example, recall the last time you were verbally attacked. It may be hard to imagine yourself paraphrasing or granting laser-like attention in that episode.

The good news is that the techniques associated with advanced listening are especially suited for these difficult interactions. Using them involves deliberate practice sessions that might be uncomfortable, but build invisible muscles.

After all, Serena Williams and Chris Gayle take their time on the practice court or nets seriously. So should you if you are serious about developing advanced listening skills and employee followership.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary of each of his past articles, send email to

Gleaner Aug 30 Rescue low followership

Why You Have So Little “Me-Time”


People blame the lack of me-time in their lives on their circumstances and in this article I try to show that it has more to do with a lack of personal skill.gleaner little me time Aug 17


Why You Have So Little “Me-Time”

As a knowledge worker, you aren’t alone if you find yourself running out of “me-time” – the time you need to spend taking care of yourself. If the amount is far below your expectations, here’s why.

Back when you completed your tertiary studies or apprenticeship, finding “me-time” probably wasn’t an issue. However, as you assumed greater commitments over the years, you probably started to feel a squeeze. Today, if you are an ambitious, Type A individual, you may have an acute problem. Your high energy levels and competitive spirit have made it easy to create more time demands than other people. This has had a positive effect – more recognition and promotions – but also an expensive, accumulated toll.

What kind of toll?

Well, if you define “me-time” as the discretionary hours spent each away from work, community obligations and church responsibilities, then it covers the following:
– Opportunities to recharge between intense projects
– Date nights with a spouse
– Play-time with your kids
– Long chats engaging your parents
– Hanging out with friends
– Daily devotions and/or planning

When you allocate time away from these activities, it takes a toll.

In an earlier article (August 31, 2014) I mentioned the need to spend 15 hours with your spouse per week if you hope to maintain the relationship. Recent research backs this up, showing a direct, negative correlation between time spent together and the probability of one day being divorced.

Some adults fail to see the need to spend quality time with their children. When I was a teen, a friend shared that one of the worst days in her life was when her parents forgot her birthday. Perhaps they just weren’t spending enough “me-time.”

Most articles that address this problem focus on the need to make explicit, written schedules that produce the desired balance. “What gets scheduled gets done” is more than a cliche. It’s backed up by researchers like NYU’s Peter Gollwitzer, who coined the term “implementation intention.
It describes a time demand that also specifies a specific start time, duration and location. Data shows that implementation intentions dramatically increase the odds that a task will be completed.

It follows therefore that if you want more “me-time” all you need do is schedule it. Unfortunately, this particular time demand is one of many which each deserve an equal commitment. Why not schedule them all? If you have ever tried this technique, you know that there are some major obstacles.

One obstacle is a misconception. Too many of us believe that becoming a better time manager involves discovering a single method and applying it diligently for the rest of our careers. This is incorrect. Instead, if you hope to survive the inevitable increase in time that life brings, you must evolve your behaviour.

Fortunately, my research shows that there is a standard track for knowledge workers to follow in their development in this area. Success relies on your ability to make the right shifts at the right time from one method to another. Here are five examples that can help you retain all the me-time you need. Each of them involves picking up a new practice, as stated, and they are listed here in approximate order of complexity.

Change 1 – From mental calendar to paper calendar

New practice – Carrying a printed calendar everywhere. Back in the 1990’s, toting around a leather notebook-planner was a sure sign of being a serious professional. Taking the extra step of converting a time demand from a mere thought into a written object transforms it.

Change 2 – From paper calendar to digital calendar

New practice – Managing an electronic device. It is all too easy to use a smartphone without mastering the necessary skills. They include keeping it charged, backing it up to the cloud and making its calendar available on multiple platforms.

Change 3 – From only scheduling meetings to scheduling all major tasks

New practice – Placing all your tasks straight into your calendar as soon as they are confirmed. Eschew To-Do lists.

Change 4 – From manually juggling your schedule to using software

New practice – Obtaining and using some of the most recent software like Timeful or SkedPal. (I play an advisory role in the latter.) Both use artificial intelligence to produce an optimized, custom calendar with the press of a button.

Change 5 – From doing your own scheduling to trusting an executive assistant

New practice – Training and trusting someone else to manage your schedule. Share your priorities so they are never violated.

While most people find themselves stuck at Change 1, there are knowledge workers at every level here in Jamaica. The reason so few are able to progress, is that five changes are to make. But they are the only way to keep finding the “me-time” you need to function. For those who are successful, “me-time” is not an afterthought, but a matter of consciously refining hard-won scheduling skills.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary of each of his past articles, send email to



Why Your Company Should Not Be Ignoring Its Promisphere


A few years ago I coined a new term – the “promisphere.” It’s a simple place to start in transforming a company’s culture.


If you suspect that there is something wrong with your corporate culture here’s one way to start cleaning things up now, before the situation worsens.

The “promisphere” in your company is defined as a network consisting of every promise ever made. Each individual commitment contributes to the overall promisphere, regardless of its current state. Because a promise is a human invention of the mind, according to Promise Theory by Bergstra and Burgess, it’s little more than a psychological object. However, the promisphere is a powerful indicator of your company’s health as it limits what can be accomplished, especially when it’s in bad shape.

Picture a fish-tank. The fish are like employees and the water can be compared to the promisphere. Each time, when a fish poops, it pollutes its own surroundings just a little. Over time, if nothing is done to correct the situation, the water poisons and kills all its inhabitants.

In like manner, in your company, whenever someone breaks, forgets or abandons a promise it pollutes the promisphere. Eventually, the problem escalates if nothing is done to reverse the effect and getting even simple things done becomes harder. As the bonds of trust fray, people are forced to invest a greater effort to maintain the same level of productivity. After a while, those who care the most get burned out and either stop trying altogether, or circulate their resume in an attempt to abandon ship.

If this resonates with you at all don’t despair yet. Every company has a promisphere and if a leader insists that his firm’s promisphere is absolutely clear… don’t believe him. The reason is simple – companies are staffed with imperfect human beings who make promises every day and fail to keep them. In other words, the promisphere is continuously being polluted, without exception. The danger is not taking urgent action to reverse the decay. What can your organization do to make sure that it’s promisphere is being cleaned up?

1. Prevent “Executitis”
Like pancreatitis, executitis is a slow, silent killer. It’s a condition in which top managers lose touch with their people, including the state of the promisphere. After some time, even well-meaning executives come to believe that broken promises don’t matter very much. They trust that, at the end of the day, staff will give them a big bligh, understand the pressures they are under and just forget about past promises. It’s not an insane tactic. Working Jamaicans trust their leaders far too much, leading to disillusionment when they see them ignoring the promisphere.

They make it too easy for executives to ignore the power and intelligence of the crowd – their staff. Leaders fail to notice that even a brand new employee can recall a broken, unfulfilled promise made decades ago. They don’t simply disappear.

On the flip-side, an executive who understands the promisphere and how it’s being polluted every day, is hyper-aware of every single promise he makes. It’s hard work to stay on top of all of them, but it pays off in the trust it generates.

2. Develop Skills
An executive who is aware of the promises he makes also must become skillful at cleaning things up when they are broken. Sometimes it requires a simple email, for example, apologizing for arriving late at a meeting. At the other extreme, I have seen executives write and read letters to their staff, taking responsibility for failing to perform their duties.

These are the sort of actions that clean up a company’s promisphere. Others include
– telling the truth openly
– seeking reconciliation
– asking for forgiveness
– making amends
– offering apologies.
In all cases, responsibility is taken wherever it has been lacking.

It’s heady, transformative stuff. I have written letters like the ones I described and as gut-wrenching as they are, they often do change everything. The first attempt can be stressful, but anyone can deliberately strengthen their skills via intense practice sessions with a trained coach.

3. Find Courage
Unfortunately, new awareness and skills aren’t enough. It’s challenging to have a confronting conversation with a boss, colleague, direct report or other stakeholder. Cleaning up the promisphere calls for a level of courage many executives don’t possess.

People will do anything to avoid these tough conversations indefinitely, trying hard to find plausible reasons to avoid them altogether. If you doubt this assertion, bring to mind three people you don’t believe you can effectively confront regarding a broken promise either of you has made. (If you cannot find an example, just ask someone who knows you well.)

Courage can be developed with the support of your colleagues. They can provide emotional cover.

Fortunately, the manager who avoids executitis, but grows in skill and courage makes staff members feel respected as they clean up the promisphere. They restore the capacity of their companies to perform.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and a management consultant. To receive a free Summary of each of his past articles, send email to

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