Listening with Impact - Stories

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Listening with Impact - Stories

Abraham Lincoln, Emma Walmsley, George Washington, Indra Nooyi, Jason Lippert, Angela Ahrendts, and Winston Churchill are seven case studies of listening with impact.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Abraham Lincoln, also known as the Great Emancipator or Honest Abe, was born in 1809 and served as the 16th President of the United States.
  • During his tenor, Lincoln was noted to be very accessible. He met with people for 75% of his day. According to him, people were his best source of information, and being accessible inspired trust.
  • Beyond his accessibility, Lincoln showed a unique ability to listen to different points of view before deciding. He also always encouraged a healthy debate. There are several accounts of him listening to some angry citizen or opposing party before responding calmly to their queries.
  • Lincoln surrounded himself with the best and brightest. These individuals were part of his cabinet, some of whom were his greatest political rivals. However, he liked to listen to varied opinions.
  • In one such case that led to "his historic Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves," Lincoln allowed his cabinet to debate for months over the issue of slave abolishment before making a decision. Afterward, he stated that he no longer needed their thoughts on the subject but was open to opinions on when and how best to implement his decision.
  • He took the advice of a cabinet member to wait until victory was declared on the battlefield before announcing the emancipation of the slaves, which left the Union in a significantly better position than it would have been, had he done it before.

Emma Walmsley

  • Emma Natasha Walmsley was born in Cumbria in 1969. She is a British businesswoman who worked at L'Oreal for 17 years and is currently the CEO at Glaxo-Smith Kline (GSK).
  • Walmsley is described as an excellent listener who is always seeking to learn. Before officially assuming her role as the CEO of GSK, Walmsley embarked on a "GSK listening tour, talking to people inside the company and out for their perspective on GSK."
  • She saw the tour as an opportunity to get people's perspectives inside the company and out, which she could then translate to others who do not understand both.
  • Walmsley initiated the Let's Talk initiative to enable GSK employees to share their honest opinions and ideas on critical business issues. This strategy ensured that employees felt like they were a part of the business.
  • Walmsley's management strategy and listening initiatives provided her with insights that she used to revitalize GSK's stagnating consumer business.
  • During her tenure, consumer sales rose 38% from $6.8 billion to $9.4 billion.

George Washington

  • George Washington was born in 1732 and was the first US president. He was the son of a wealthy farmer and worked as a land surveyor in his youth.
  • Washington later joined the military and fought in the French and Indian War, later becoming the Continental Army commander-in-chief during the American Revolutionary War. Washington was celebrated as a national hero after his victory against the British forces during the war. He was elected President in 1787.
  • According to some editors, George Washington was possibly the best listener during the Revolution. He listened not only to his council of war but also to civilians and his critics.
  • Washington's ability to listen to various opinions before making a decision helped him make the right one in most cases.
  • On one occasion, Washington secured a secret retreat at Trenton in 1777 by listening to local civilians who knew the landscape better. This act helped to ensure the Continental Army's survival and provide the opportunity for a surprise attack against the British at Princeton.

Indra Nooyi

  • Indra Nooyi was born in Chennai, India, in 1955. She worked at Johnson & Johnson in India before entering the Yale School of Management in 1978, marking her move from India to the US. She was the CEO of PepsiCo for 12 years (2006-2018) and worked there for about 24 years.
  • Nooyi is known for her remarkable listening attitude, making her one of the most popular foods and beverages maker. In listening to her employees, she held a series of town hall meetings.
  • Nooyi told Harvard Business Review in 2015 that "every morning you've got to wake up with a healthy fear that the world is changing, and a conviction that, to win, you have to change faster and be more agile than anyone else."
  • To stay ahead of changing times, Nooyi made it a habit to listen to customers who said they wanted better and healthier food products. Based on feedback from customers, she made a decisive action to prioritize healthier products.
  • While her strategy initially drew significant criticism from analysts and dipped its quarterly returns, PepsiCo has surpassed quarterly expectations since 2016.

Jason Lippert

  • Jason Lippert is also an example of a great listener. He is the President, CEO, and Director of LCI Industries.
  • While Lippert ran a successful company with a 20% growth year over year, the company still had a 110% annual turnover, indicating a constant churn.
  • After a "TED Talk on 'Truly Human Leadership' in 2016," Lippert concluded that his company needed to care more about its employees. The company had a reputation for driving its employees too hard and not paying them enough.
  • Lippert then took an active decision to change the company's culture by listening to his employees to drive the change they want.
  • Lippert now holds regular listening sessions to drive the efficiency of his executive team. He has these meetings at different LCI plants, where he listens to their opinions and ideas. He is then able to ensure that his executive team can cater to its people's needs in knowing what they want and how to provide it.
  • According to Lippert, "if employees feel like they matter, they are less likely to leave the job."
  • His company now promotes "five leadership qualities, including being courageous, an effective communicator, humble/coachable, servant leader, and motivator." The company has now grown with up to 10,000 employees.

Angela Ahrendts

  • Angela Jean Ahrendts was born in Indiana in 1960. She is an American businesswoman and was the former "Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Stores at Apple Inc." She was ranked as the 25th most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes.
  • Ahrendts is sometimes compared to an elf based on how she works. She mostly operates behind the scenes, surreptitiously and artfully. According to Ahrendts, one of her methods to her successes is learning to be 'the spectator,' which she began doing at age 21 years.
  • She listened, watched, and observed her way into acquiring first-hand marketing experience in the fashion industry.
  • When she began working at Apple, Ahrendts also channeled this listening attitude to develop several new initiatives that drive opinion sharing. The Apple Share Your Ideas app is an example of these initiatives, created to allow people to propose improvements and make complaints.
  • In her own words, Ahrendts said, "great leaders are listeners. We have 66,000 employees in 30 countries. We need to listen to them. We have apps that help us receive feedback and hear their voices."
  • Ahrendts' listening helped her to understand Apple's company culture. She discovered that the best way to communicate with her large team was by providing an enabling environment where team members can be open and trusting to share their ideas and opinions.
  • During her tenure at Apple Inc., Ahrendts impacted Apple's iPhone photography, led the company's shift towards online ordering, influenced the development of solid gold watches as high-fashion jewelry, and more.

Winston Churchill

  • Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born in England in 1874. He is one of the greatest orators of all time, was a successful statesman, author, and a former British prime minister.
  • In achieving all of this, listening played a crucial role in Churchill's life. He learned a lot about public speaking by listening, sitting, watching, and reading all his father's speeches. Churchill's father was a great influence on his early life.
  • Later on, Churchill developed his oratorical style by listening to American statesman Bourne Cockran, who told him that he could "spellbind an audience of thousands by speaking as if he was an organ, using strong words, and enunciation clearly in a wave-like rhythm."
  • Churchill used active listening to learn and understand the people's wants, which he used to persuade the public and politicians to side with his plans for the country.
  • Active listening helped him convince everyone that going to war against Adolf Hitler was the best course of action instead of striking a peace agreement with Germany.
  • The English and Allies eventually won that war against Nazi Germany, and Churchill became a hero.

Research Strategy

We could only provide listening impact stories around the US and UK, as most other countries had little documentation of such stories. While we found a list of great listeners who have impacted their society/company/industry in other countries, we found little to no information to include them in this report. However, we provided stories centered around slavery, war, and the corporate environment with a nearly even breakdown across the male and female genders. We also utilized sources beyond Wonder's standard two-year timeframe because some information provided dated as far back as the 18th century.
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