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The Psycho CEO Vol. 2

Recently, one of our executive team members told our team that the profession boasting the most psychopaths is the CEO. I laughed, but later was paranoid enough to Google it, and found his statement to be true. The chief executive officer tops the list of those most likely to be a psychopath. Sure, I share the list with lawyers, surgeons, and clergymen, but CEO is at the top. Number one, baby! So, if you’re a CEO, a VP of Sales (also on the list), or a burgeoning psycho, I’m writing this series of “reflections” with you in mind. I hope you relate. 

Reflection #2:  “Reflections of a Poor Listener”

Poor Listening

I’m losing my hearing. My kids say things to me, and I get frustrated with them for mumbling. Problem is, no one else thinks they’re mumbling.

“Dad, maybe you’re the one with the problem,” they say.

“Huh?” I didn’t catch that either. But, perhaps I’m not losing my hearing. Perhaps I’m just a poor listener. I’d take poor listener over bad ears any day, and I know that I can improve my listening skills. A hearing impairment sounds permanent to me.  

So, I’m committed to improving my listening. I’ve read up on it some, done some research, and been intentional about how I listen. Here’s what I’ve learned about different stages of listening:

Stage 1: When we’re invested in being right, we stop listening.

It feels good to be right, and it feeds our egos. But if we don’t get curious about others’ views, we’ll miss out on the best solutions. Mediocre solutions beget mediocre results, and guess what? Good leadership is ultimately judged by results, not by “rightness.” Said another way, we are either invested in being right, or we are genuinely curious and invested in learning. So, when we listen, we could be downloading only the information that supports what we already believe, thereby ignoring the rest. Stage 1 listening isn’t listening at all. I happen to be very good at stage 1 listening which neither adds no value to my company and no value to my relationships. For more info on the concept of curiousness and a commitment to learning, check out The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leaders by Dethmer and Chapman.

Stage 2: When we’re invested only in the facts, we miss the whole story.

This is a step up from selective “I’m right” listening found in Stage 1. Many people believe this style of listening is optimal as it forms the basis for science, investigations, experiments, etc. I frequently hear people say, “Just give me the facts and not all that other bull$&*!” I get it. But if you only focus on the facts, you will miss the whole story. Our company did an anonymous employee survey last year and received a comment from one of our employees that was very inflammatory. The comment is in its original format here: 


See what I mean about inflammatory? Are the ALL CAPS loud enough for you? When I first “listened” to those words, I discounted all the content as being “wrong.” I remember thinking, this person has his facts wrong. We have a robust training program! We pay fairly! We implemented significant changes just in the last year! I was defensive and committed to being right. Then, I took a breath, told myself to get curious, and re-read it. Emotions occurred within me suggesting that whoever wrote the comment was clearly frustrated. Listening to the song beneath the (ALL CAPS) words, I could tell that the person felt unsupported, unheard, and scared about the future of our organization. Sure, the facts were wrong, but the real picture was beginning to emerge. I had moved to Stage 3…


Stage 3: When we listen as if we are in others’ shoes, we can see the whole picture.

Here, the goal is empathy. My challenge to improve my listening skills means working hard to listen from an empathetic perspective. I must to be very intentional about it. What do I mean by intentional? Another real-life example: 

At our company, we have these small group meetings with employees called Culture Dialogues. The purpose of these meetings is to have a conversation around, “Hey, this is who we say we are. Where do we miss it?” The meetings can be uncomfortable for me as I hear things that I don’t like hearing. To be effective, I must approach these meetings with a mindset of “I’m here to listen. I’m here for dialogue. I’m not here to argue, debate, or justify myself.” I tell the others in the room to hold me accountable to that mindset. When I hear the tough stuff, I force myself to shift to an empathetic perspective which sounds like this: What must it be like to be the other person? I wonder how he feels saying that. I’ll bet it took courage to bring up that topic. What’s it like to experience that? I’ve felt that way before. I wonder what’s going on here? Again, an empathetic perspective takes a lot of energy for me.

At one of our Culture Dialogues, several of our production folks mentioned that they are given 8 hours of paid holiday time per holiday, but are then required to take 2 additional hours of vacation time to be paid out for a full 10-hour shift’s work. I thought: That must suck. Every time our folks get a paid off holiday, many of them must fill out a vacation request for two additional hours. That wouldn’t feel like a holiday at all! Prior to my listening improvement plan, my response would have been “You get the same amount of vacation hours as everyone else. It’s totally fair. Plus, you get the benefit of only having to work 4 days a week (4X10 = 40 hours) with every Friday off.” I would have been right and felt quite justified. I probably would have exasperated those folks too for not listening to their song. 

Ultimately, we changed our policy – for the better. If you want to read more on listening empathetically, check out the work by Otto Scharmer at www.ottoscharmer.com.

I hope you can hear well. Scratch that – I hope you’re a good listener. I’m not great, but when we become intentional, curious, and empathetic, our relationships improve and our organization improves. And that sounds good to me.

The Psycho CEO

Read The Psycho CEO Vol. 1 here.

Kasa Companies 418 East Ave B Salina, KS 67401