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September 2015 Article:


Alumni Advantage is a newsletter for current students written by members of the National Professional Advisory Board and their colleagues. It provides insider advice, insight and inspiration so that when our graduates enter the real world, they are ready to rock it.


Lessons from Fifth Grade
Alex Wells

Linda Rutherford

"A wise old owl lived in an oak; the more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can't I be like that old bird?"

After a particularly tough day in fifth grade—one where my tendency to be a chatterbox got on my teacher's last nerve—I had to write that saying 500 times in a spiral. Using my best cursive handwriting. With correct punctuation. While my hand cramped and my 10-year-old self was angry at the punishment at the hand of Mrs. Ferrell, I have never forgotten that saying, or the lesson behind it.

In our jobs, we get busy "doing." We have deadlines, goals, quotas and metrics to meet. As Leaders, we have to cast the vision, articulate the plan, help our teams be successful, and communicate the score. There are project plans, "to-do" lists, planning documents and meetings. Oh, the meetings. We meet, we talk, we do. But, how often do we listen? Really listen.

Knowledge, insight, and wisdom often come when we least expect them. And, they usually come when we are observing and listening, rather than when we are talking and directing.

Intellectually, we all nod. Yeah, you're right. I should be a better listener. It would make me a better employee. It would make me a better leader. It would make me a better advisor. If I was watching I would have picked up on that subtle non-verbal and I might have caught a sensitivity. If I had been listening instead of thinking what I was going to say next, I might have picked up on the uncertainty in that person's voice.

We sometimes get in a rush to offer an opinion, share a perspective, "defend our ground," or even show our smarts. At least I do.

But, when I remember to stop and listen (this takes constant effort to really clear my head, put down all devices, and be all in), I reap the benefits. I offer better counsel. I learn something I didn't know. I know the person I'm talking with feels heard. People see more than just what I know. People see I care. Mrs. Ferrell's lesson has stayed with me for nearly 40 years. When I fail to be a good listener, I dust myself off and repeat that saying quietly, over and over. I'll have another chance to be like that old bird.

What lessons from childhood have stuck with you? What advice from grade school will you carry into your career?

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