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High Performance: Are you listening? Really?

July 13, 2016 -  By
Communication concept on chalkboard

Image: iStock/kutubQ

For the past couple of years, I’ve been mentoring a young man in his late 20s. We meet every couple of weeks for coffee early in the morning before work begins. Among other topics, we discuss his job and issues related to navigating the nuances of large company politics.

At our most recent meeting, he informed me that he was beginning to look for new employment. We had discussed this topic before and I knew that his career plan involved moving to a different industry, and so I was not surprised. However, the trigger for this most recent announcement was the fact that his manager had failed to listen to him—really listen, that is. Let me explain.

His manager had been meeting with him regularly on a one-on-one basis. During their recent meeting, this young man was sharing with his manager a legitimate concern about a company policy which was not well-defined and affected his sales commission. In a nutshell, his manager lost his cool and shut him down, telling him that he needed to learn how to pick his battles and that this was not a battle he should have chosen. Apparently, this policy had caused consternation throughout the company and this manager didn’t want to hear about it again, especially from a young, up-start salesperson.

Now, I recognize that I don’t know the entire story, but I do know when a manager is not listening—really listening, that is. You see, the specific question about the policy was not the deeper question being asked. The more important question was about this young man’s future with the organization. The blow-off was not simply a blow-off to a minor question; it was a blow-off to this young man’s career with the company. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the manager was clueless.

Managers have a responsibility to listen to their employees. It’s difficult. They need to listen to the surface issues and also listen to—and understand—the underlying issues. Having one-on-one meetings with subordinates is great but not if there is an unwillingness or inability to truly listen. People don’t leave companies; they leave managers.

In addition, managers need to recognize what high-potential employees require of them: more time, more listening and more hand-holding than typical employees. Yes, these individuals are high maintenance. But they are well worth the investment. The young man I’m mentoring is very much a high-potential employee, and his employer will surely be very sorry when he announces his resignation.

Let this be a lesson to all of us managers to listen, and then to really listen.

Now go forth.

Image: iStock/kutubQ


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About the Author:

Phil Harwood is a Senior Advisor with Tamarisk Business Advisors. Contact him at

1 Comment on "High Performance: Are you listening? Really?"

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  1. Phil, That’s a good point. I’ve been guilty of being the poor listener too many times in my 30 years of landscaping. True listening is a skill that takes practice. It’s very difficult when there is chaos or conflict. These are the times that it can be most important.