Listening at the speed of sound;
More curious than an inquisitive cat;
Able to access and express intuition in a single blurt.
It’s Superleader. Disguised as a mild-mannered nonprofit professional, Superleader is endowed with extraordinary qualities and fights a never-ending battle for mission, impact, and results.
(Sound familiar? You can view the original classic video here.)
Leaders who listen, are curious, and use their intuition are superheroes. With other qualities, they are able to increase morale, effectiveness, and retention of staff, board members and donors. And, these three superpowers can be learned and practiced so that they strengthen over time.
You already have some good listening skills. It’s an overlooked superpower. Perhaps you started as a frontline fundraiser, or perhaps you have had to engage donors somewhere along your professional trajectory. Either way, you can enhance this skill by distinguishing and noticing three different levels of listening.
Level 1: Internal Listening
When you listen at level 1, you listen to the sound of your inner voice. You may hear the words of another person with which you are engaging, however, you are primarily aware of your own opinions, stories, judgments as well as your own feelings, needs, and thoughts. This is primarily a place of listening to respond.
Most of us spend the majority of time listening at Level 1 — which is perfectly normal. It’s actually important for us to pay attention to our own needs and opinions. For example, when the contractor is asking you how you want your kitchen remodeled; that’s a situation that is 100% about what you want; your opinions, judgments, and desires.
Level 2: Focused Listening
At Level 2 your focus shifts towards the other person with whom you are engaged in dialogue. You pay attention to the other person’s words, body language, emotions, etc. If your job involves meeting with donors or volunteers, then you likely experienced the feeling of Level 2 listening during those interactions. One key to mastering this skill is to turn off technology when you are with other people.
Level 3: Global Listening
At Level 3, your focus softens to take in everything. You become aware of the energy between you and others. You also notice how energy shifts. You can detect sadness, lightness, humor, and agitation. You are aware of what is going on in the environment. There is a way that you are conscious of underlying mood, or tone, or the impact of the conversation. This is also the level where your intuition lives.
Superleaders learn to listen at all three levels – simultaneously. While listening to their own internal voice (level 1), they amp up their level 2 and 3 superpowers to create a connection with people, and sense what would be useful in a given situation. They also remain curious – about everything and everyone.
Many of us recall what it was like to be a young child and curious about everything. We used to ask simple questions like: What is that? How do we do that? (If you are a parent, this likely sounds familiar).
It is this “childlike” quality that Superleaders use to bring energy and aliveness to interactions they have with other people. It’s a superpower that opens doors of possibility and has been referred to by others as “the greatest leadership trait of all.” And, the key to unlocking this superpower in conversation is using “powerful questions.” Powerful questions:
- Are open-ended
- Usually start with What or How
- Should be short and simple
- Open up a wider range of possibility
- Lead to new insights
- Invite people to look within or to the future
So, how do you kickstart your own curiosity? The best way to start is to be honest with yourself, and consider when was the last time you were really curious about the world and those with whom you interact? One simple and challenging exercise to increase your curiosity is to practice using more open-ended questions in your interactions with others. Do your best to provide little advice and very few answers. Start noticing what happens.
The power of curiosity is that it elevates your listening from level 1 to levels 2 and 3. So when someone behaves in a way that upsets you (level 1 listening), get curious. You can ask yourself: I wonder what brought on this episode? What’s happening for them? And then, use your intuition.
In addition to the customary five senses that help inform us about our environment, there is a sixth sense – intuition. It’s a superpower that each of us has, although Superleaders develop and use this power regularly. It becomes active at Level 3 listening.
Many people feel intuition in their bodies. Sometimes it is literally a “gut” reaction. Some people don’t feel intuition in their bodies at all — they simply have a sense, see an image, or have a thought. One way to strengthen this superpower is to practice taking immediate action on an intuitive “hit” and see what happens.
Another practice is to speak (or, “blurt”) your intuition. Put words to the signal (or nudge) that you receive and say those words out loud. Unfortunately, many of us hold back our intuition because it does not align with rational/analytical ways of knowing. Therefore, by the time many of us go off to college, the sharpness of our intuitive sword has become dulled by the grind of the industrial education complex. Superleaders recognize this, and as they mature, they re-sharpen the blade of their intuitive supersword in order to cut through the confusion of our complex world. They also tune their intuitive antennas and become confident that the signals they receive are worth paying attention to. They know that the signal usually is not misleading, even though the interpretation of the signal may be off target. Superleaders trust themselves to speak from their intuition and not be attached to the interpretation.
Being a nonprofit Superleader in these turbulent times is NOT about having a megalomanic ego-trip. It IS about having a call to service. We need more of you. So, if you want to have a greater impact through your service I invite you to activate your superpowers of listening, curiosity and intuition. And, if you’d like some support from other Superleaders on a similar path, I encourage you to join them for the Coaching Essentials Course where Janice Cunning and I will bring our own superpowers in service of you.
David Langiulli is an executive coach and trainer who helps nonprofit professionals and their teams flourish, thrive, and get results.