This I Believe

James - Gilbert, Arizona
Entered on May 4, 2006

Listening, Love and Leadership

I believe listening and love are the really the same thing.

Many years ago I attended a workshop that opened with a request for people to share a story about their personal life. To make matters worse I was asked to go first. There wasn’t time to for analysis and risk avoidance. There was just enough time (and pressure) for honesty. So I stood and told the group how I marveled when our sons called home and talked with their Mother. Our boys were starting their own families and work, but they always took time to call and talk with Mom. They shared their lives with her, and she shared her joy in listening to their stories. I envied that connection.

A few years later I was working with the Bertelsmann Foundation on a worldwide project to identify how effective local governments had achieved success. One of the council members in the City of Tilburg, Netherlands, was asked why he had supported the change that had brought such improvement to his city. He said he wasn’t actually convinced that the change would produce results. He supported the change because he had become convinced that the old government was incapable of “listening”.

The current war in Iraq continues to lose supporters. Most of America’s neighbors and allies opposed the war from the beginning. At home democrats, independents and now republicans are withdrawing their support. Even the military is speaking out against this policy. The President of the United States has enormous authority and power, but he can’t force people to follow him. I bet the President is not a good listener

Since my retirement I have helped my wife in her battle with cancer. When things are good we visit with family, and I am reminded again and again of the power of listening, which I now see as love. The young ones can’t wait to see her, touch her, be with her, to tell her about their lives. As I watch her listen with all her heart, I am reminded of Karl Menninger’s description of listening:

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move towards, and we want to sit in their radius. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.

I believe listening and love are really the same thing. Leadership.