"What the world needs now is love sweet love

It's the only thing that there's just too little of

What the world needs now is love sweet love

No not just for some but for everyone"

Hal David and Burt Bacharach

Love? Really? What do Hal David and Burt Bacharach know about leadership and coaching in today’s world?  Here’s my take...

I recently came to the end of a coaching assignment with the chief executive of a well known public body. This person has a brain the size of a planet so is better equipped than most to think deeply about the bewildering crises, complexity and uncertainty that we face at the moment and how these might impact on his organisation, the industry that he helps shape, and the future of us and the planet.

We were reviewing our work together and I asked him what aspects of our work had been most useful for him. After a pause he said

“It was your listening, John. Above all else it was the quality of your listening”.  

This got us thinking aloud together. Listening is something we can all do. “What would it be like”, we wondered, “if everyone could be listened to like that?” If listening could be something that was available to all people in an organisation, not just the ‘privileged few at the top’. My client is also a musician and here is where Hal and Burt showed up – ‘what the world needs now is listening – not just for some but for everyone’ we reflected.

This got me thinking. One of the great influences on my professional life is the work of Carl Rogers, widely regarded as the grandfather of the Humanistic Psychology movement. His voluminous body of research found that there are three core conditions that support learning and growth in adults: personal genuineness, listening without judgement, and empathy. Creating these core conditions have been central to the effectiveness of my coaching work over the years and, as I think about it anew, these conditions were also at the heart of my best work during my corporate HR leadership career. To bring this right up to date, Rogers's findings are echoed, clarified and enhanced by the results of Google’s massive 2 year study into what drives high performance.

The company that sees itself as the world’s leading organisation at identifying patterns in complex data concluded that one overarching characteristic was shared by all their highest performing teams: psychological safety. Which is made up of two key elements:

- conversational turn taking: each person gets a chance to speak

- confidence that they will be heard without fear of recrimination

Both of these are dependent on the quality of our collective listening.
At this point in history, as we in the UK are taking our first few steps beyond
lockdowns, and begin to discover what we are returning to, including a climate crisis, a global pandemic, possibly a global economic crisis and arguably a less safe and secure world (e.g. Afghanistan),  what practical things can hard pressed leaders and managers in organisations do to move forward effectively?

It seems to me that we could do a lot worse than start by simply listening.

Some people will be at (or beyond) breakdown with the level of work pressure that has continued throughout the pandemic. Some will rejoice at returning to ‘freedom’ or to the structure, companionship, and togetherness of being back at the office. Many will feel heightened levels of anxiety at returning to a ‘new normal’ (whatever that might eventually look like). Still others will be grappling with feelings of bewilderment and grief at who and what they have lost over the last 18 months or so. The truth is we just don't know yet.

So as a leader, manager or co-worker in an organisational setting, whether you are supporting your people through an ongoing period of transition, working together to figure out what the new normal will be, creating conditions for your people to learn adapt and grow, or whether you are focused on the not uncomplicated task of ensuring sustained performance...listen.

What the world needs now is listening, no not just for some but for everyone.
Hal and Burt – take a bow.