Given our own extensive leadership training, here at Cerulean we are always interested in the latest thoughts on leadership and our attention couldn’t help but be captured by one recent article that appeared on the TrainingZone website. An excerpt from a new book by leadership and learning expert David Kay, it considered the listening qualities – or lack thereof – that are present in figures of authority.

Speaking of how much he looked forward to all-hands calls and Town Hall meetings, Kay drew particular attention to what he described as the “grand finale” of question time. He said that despite the ostensible aim of these sessions to “communicate a clear and consistent message to a large number of people in a timely manner”, question time seemed to have a diminishing effect on the whole event.

Past and prospective recipients of our leadership training here at Cerulean may be able to think back to all kinds of events that they’ve attended where certain suspect behaviours were in evidence in the host. You might recall occasions when the supposed ‘leader’ answered the question that they wished to answer, rather than the one that was actually asked.

Others have been known to rephrase the original question posed to such an extent that it loses its true meaning, or honestly say that they don’t know the answer, but nonetheless take a ‘stab’ at it. These are scenes that are seen in offices, conferences and town halls up and down the UK, and what it ultimately comes down to, is people being fake listeners.

Kay went on to explain what he meant by this. He said that while he genuinely believed many people to be good listeners at the start of their careers, over time, they gradually learned to be mere ‘listeners’ – people who may “nod, smile, agree and appear engrossed”, even though “in reality they are not paying full attention.”

Sometimes, it becomes more obvious when people are only pretending to listen. Kay cited the example of an MP who appeared on a BBC morning TV show and looked totally bored as the guest band played their latest single, only to – when he noticed that he was on camera – begin nodding and moving enthusiastically to the music.

In other instances, though, it is much more difficult for one to tell whether a leader is ‘faking it’. That only makes it all the more important for those in authority to actually listen and focus on the issue at hand, if they are to build trust and rapport with other people, rather than diminish it.

It’s certainly a message that we periodically emphasise in our leadership training here at Cerulean, as does Kay. As he concluded in the TrainingZone article: “Whether you are aware of this or not, you are always modelling leadership. The question is what type of leader are you – one that lights up the room as you come in or as you go out?”