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Gary Horton: Time to shut up and listen

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: October 20, 2009 5:13 p.m.
Updated: October 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.
It wasn’t too many hours into the Wharton management program in which I’m self-reclused that I recognized my first personal improvement goal: Shut up and listen.

Not only is there so much information and wisdom flying around me, but also the diversity of my peers with their gigantic scope of this experience, makes anything but focused listening almost perverse. Not ironically, the first two days of this immersion experience had us searching inward for chinks and flaws and “ahas.”

Again, I came to the same conclusion: As a business leader and individual, I’ll be well served to hush up and truly listen to those making input before moving forward with my own two bits.

Leading is fine and fun. But leading armed with all the facts and frames, angles and opinions is certain to be stronger.
Just open your mind and listen closely and you’ll be amazed at what pops in.

A couple of days back, President Barack Obama stopped by Louisiana for a speech. As he began, a portion of the crowd booed and heckled Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican and future possible contender against Obama in 2012. What happened next was unique in today’s politics. Obama quieted the hecklers and explained that while Jindal is a competitor, he’s of course a fine man doing tremendously good things for Louisiana.

The crowd needed to listen and learn from their leader modeling respect and productive relationships.

Also on the trip, Obama took questions and a precocious six-year-old asked him, “Why do people hate you?”

Obama replied, (paraphrased): “People have strong opinions in our country, and with the current hardships, some are emotional and speaking out loudly. While everyone has a voice in America, as a politician, I’ll take my share of hits. It’s OK, I don’t think they actually hate me.”

Again, a civil nod to inclusiveness. Everyone has a voice.

As his term proceeds, Obama is modeling regard for discourse and respect that has gone missing in the rancor of our political debate. Civility and respect won’t solve our nation’s problems, but it does set the stage for moving forward with constructive collaboration. He and Jindal likely have respect, if not a genuine friendship. We can use more of this stuff for sure if we want to actually move ahead.

Here at Wharton our days are very long, so thoughtful private time is premium and rare. This past Sunday afforded such, so I hit the gym early and jumped on the treadmill for some stress relief.

They’ve got treadmills with TVs built into them so you can pass the time while sloughing off the prior day’s over-consumption.

Dialing past the morning infomercials, I jogged onto the Mormon Tabernacle choir, accompanied by full orchestra.

I’ve not been a “Mo-tab” fan since leaving that organization well over a decade ago. Truthfully, I never liked that big, hulking organ blaring away, sometimes sounding too much to my tastes like a monstrous sneeze!

But Sunday I listened before I judged, and the music and performance was inspirational and beautiful. The choir performed classical sacred works from Bach to Mozart and it was wonderful to jog to the incredible sound and soak it all in on a rainy Sunday morning in Philadelphia. I would have missed the inspiration had I not stopped to open up, set aside biases and listen.

Other times on the treadmill I’ve dialed in some of America’s “news talk shows.” Both “news” and “talk show” are, of course, misnomers. Talking implies listening too — but mostly these shows are chest-pounding manipulation. One can’t count the times Bill O’Reilly has ran over his guests with rude rancor, and we can’t measure the mountain of Glenn Beck’s tearful venting.

Conversely, there’s the spleen-splitting of the Keith Olbermanns of the left side world. Today on most of American TV there seems little consideration of the world’s full scope of important and valid views. Rather, it’s partisanship that rules.

I’ve been exiled at Wharton for 18 of my scheduled 34 days here. It’s been a crush of information and insight for me like no other prior experience. From new friends all around the globe to lectures so deep and wide — it’s been provoking and motivating and just plain wonderful.

But none of this cherished gift matters at all without my first realization from my first hours here. Stop and listen. Hear the other guy out. Be civil and considerate and learn. Just shut up before talking, because you don’t know what you don’t know.

Nothing is learned without listening first. And when you think about it, how else could it be? Too bad it’s a lesson so many of us must continually relearn.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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