One of the most important qualities of great leadership is the ability to genuinely listen. Not just pay attention when someone is talking to you, but to hear what they are really saying… things that others just don’t hear.
The challenge with living out this behavior is that in your role as a leader you have access to information that others don’t have. So you can think you have things sorted out because you have better visibility than others, but that can cost you dearly.
This lesson was learned in a very difficult way thirty years ago when seven astronauts lost their lives in the Challenger explosion… because leadership didn’t listen. They thought that they knew better, but they didn’t.
As you will recall, 73 seconds after launch, Challenger blew up in a fireball and all seven astronauts on board were killed. The worst part of the tragedy was the fact that the accident was avoidable, if leadership had just listened.
In an NPR interview with Bob Ebeling, one of the NASA flight engineers who argued vociferously to not launch, he told NPR:
“NASA ruled the launch,” he explains. “They had their mind set on going up and proving to the world they were right and they knew what they were doing. But they didn’t.”
On the eve of the launch, Ebeling and other engineers had tried to stop the launch. As NPR reports, the problem was with the seals on the booster rocket; that “the data showed that the rubber seals on the shuttle’s booster rockets wouldn’t seal properly in cold temperatures and this would be the coldest launch ever.”
Ebeling goes on to say…
“I was one of the few that was really close to the situation,” Ebeling recalls. “Had they listened to me and wait[ed] for a weather change, it might have been a completely different outcome.”
If you are going to lead well, you need to know how to listen. Really listen. To not push back on information, thinking you know more than others, but rather take in information… welcome it… and ensure you use that to make the most informed decision.
This is tough. You might already have a decision in mind and then someone brings other data to you. In your mind, you’ve already processed the decision and nothing is going to change your mind.
You have a very narrow lane you run in as you manage your time and responsibilities. There are others all around you with a variety of experiences and insights that can help you make the best decision. Tap into that reservoir.
Proverbs 15:22 tells us:
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”
Counsel is only good if it is heeded. Which means you have to really listen to what those advisors are saying.
If NASA leadership had done that thirty years ago, seven astronauts wouldn’t have lost their lives. I don’t know what decisions you might be facing, but seek and LISTEN to counsel. It may just save you from making a truly horrible choice.