Most leaders know how to listen for what they want to hear. Many leaders have learned how to listen for what they need to hear.

But I have met very few leaders who understand the importance of listening for what they don’t want to hear. And they are the leaders who are truly respected.

Who would you want to follow?

The leader who listens for that last ten percent — that which far too often goes unspoken — is a leader who can lead in the best and the worst of times. Inevitably, that ten percent is going to be discussed somewhere. And if a leader isn’t willing for the broadcast to happen in his or her office, it will get aired wherever it can: in the hallways, by the water cooler, over lunch. Soon, the leader is no longer leading the troops. He is chasing a concern, a problem into which all have been clued. Everyone except the leader, that is.

How do you prevent this scenario? How do you know there is still more to the conversation, and how do you encourage full disclosure?

It begins with trust. And trust begins with you.

Your people know you better than you may think. So, how do you react when you hear the tell-all?  Your way of responding to all things, good and bad, does not go unnoticed. Your people will pay extra-close attention to how you respond to crisis or bad news, and what they see is dictating how they will approach you when things go haywire. Did the assembly line break down for 12 minutes? Was a product shipment date missed? Has a key employee has gone off the deep end? What they tell you — or don’t tell you — during a huge problem down the road is being determined right now by how you respond to even the smallest of hiccups.

Do you flail around wildly and bow up like a cornered animal? That scares people. Do you derail the deliverers and tear them down? That shames and cowers them. Do you demand that they fix the problem or you’ll fix them? That causes stress and anxiety. And all of these create a hostile and toxic environment that long outlasts the immediate emotion.

Maybe your response swings to the opposite extreme — perhaps you start to cower and react with fear. In that case, you are signaling doom and gloom to your people, and you may as well just tell them you are too weak to lead.

Listen to yourself and check to see if you hear yourself in one of these two quick scenarios:

  1. Do you think you deserve better from your people? They deserve better from you!
  2. Do you demand they deliver on your command, because you are paying them good money? You may be paying them well, but that is not what is going to make them perform their best. Money is only a part of the productivity puzzle!

However you may attempt to justify a negative reaction to that last ten percent of a conversation — the “rest of the story” — won’t matter to your people. Yes, you might still run a profitable business, despite flying off the handle at every crisis. But if you want a healthy, vibrant business where your people are loyal and enjoy coming to work, it’s time to open your ears and your heart to listen, even to those things you don’t want to hear.

As you do, you will become a leader your people will want to follow.