Silent in many languages: Valuing people through listening

Col. C.K. Hyde, 314th Airlift Wing commander

Col. C.K. Hyde, 314th Airlift Wing commander

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- General Ulysses S. Grant was the hero of the Civil War battles of Fort Donelson, Tenn., Vicksburg, Miss., Chattanooga, Tenn. and the campaigns in Northern Virginia which culminated with the Confederate Army's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Va. He was not flashy, physically imposing or charismatic like many of his predecessors at the head of United States forces. Instead, it was said of him that "he could be silent in several languages." General Grant's success as a leader can be attributed to many things, including an unfailing commitment to win, but the attribute I would like to focus on was his ability to listen. 

Leaders are judged every time they interact with people and every time they communicate. Communication is a two-way street -- sending and receiving, and only a small portion of what is communicated is through words. General Grant was a great communicator. His memoirs are still the standard by which presidential accounts are judged and his operational orders were noted for their clear and concise prose. It was not his writing, however, which made him a successful military leader--it was his silence. 

General Grant had many diverse people around him, including the energetic General William Tecumseh Sherman. He got the most out of them because he valued their contributions to the Union and he communicated their value by listening. Out of silence (listening) came support for General Sherman's plan to march to the sea and many other battlefield successes. General Grant built a winning team by recognizing that people were not just a "way" -- someone to be used to accomplish his objectives, but they were an "end" -- people of dignity and value allied with him in a common cause. This is the heart of General Grant's silence and the truth of listening: how we listen is a measure of how we value people. 

Professor Alec Horniman at the University of Virginia identifies "valuing people" as one of the most important aspects of leadership. He also states that leaders are evaluated by those around them based on their truthfulness, promise keeping, fairness and the respect they show others. In other words, the ability to successfully lead is dependent upon the leader's character. Integrity counts. Leaders who view people as a "way" and use them for their own gain ultimately undermine the organization and its mission even if they achieve short term "success." Leaders who view people as an "end" -- a valued member of the team, a wingman -- and live up to our core values will build winning teams which are successful at their mission. The best way to value people is to listen to them. 

We have an important mission of training the world's best C-130 and C-21 combat airlifters to fly, fight and win. We can all be better leaders and more effective at our mission by valuing people through listening.