I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about change and how it happens, and lately, who makes it happen. Change makers make change happen. They are driven by a desire to transform something – to make it better.
Some change makers are focused on changing themselves: self-improvement is their goal. They want to become stronger leaders, better communicators, or great managers. Others are focused on change within an organization. They may see an unhealthy culture and want to improve it, or dream of a better, more efficient way to get things done. Others are focused on social change. They dream of a more just and humane world and seek ways to change cultural norms, fix broken systems, and solve social problems.
Over the years I’ve noticed something really fascinating: all of these kinds of change require the change maker to start with the same practice: compassionate, non-judgmental listening.
In our social change seminars, listening is the first phase in a process called Human Centered Design. HCD is a methodology for creating products or services that will lead to social change. The first step is always to listen compassionately to the people you hope to serve, who you hope will use your product or service.
When it comes to organizational change, listening comes in the form of measuring employee engagement BEFORE embarking on a change effort. Big change efforts are met with enthusiasm and energy only when employees are highly engaged – without it, most change efforts flop. So, we recommend a listening tool called the Q12 from Gallup to measure employee engagement regularly – before you need to make that change.
And, in our seminars about leadership and management, we teach the foundational practice of self-awareness. In a way, self-awareness is the practice of listening deeply – to yourself. This, I think, can be the hardest of the three forms of listening. Taking the time to listen to our true selves requires quieting the thinking (sometimes racing!) mind and this can be a challenge. And it’s so easy to heap judgment on ourselves when we don’t like what we “hear.”
Great change is led by change makers. And great change makers know that listening first – and meeting what they hear with an open, non-judgmental mind and compassionate heart – is essential. If we can’t listen compassionately to ourselves, it will be hard to listen compassionately to our staff, and even harder to listen compassionately to people whose lives, beliefs, and behavior are vastly different from ours.
Listening is the gateway to big, transformational change. So, let’s listen more deeply to ourselves and others – and see what that makes possible!
Amy Mills, CEO