The lost leadership skill of listening

Why strong leaders listen, why AI may not be all that threatening, and why trust will beat empty opinions

Founding Fuel

Dear friend,

In his latest book Listening for Well-Being, Arun Maira narrates a story from early in his working life. He was working with Tata Motors, then Telco. The firm's technical collaboration with Daimler Benz had just ended and Telco was gearing up to go solo. Maira was responsible for finding the right people, and foster teamwork.

Those were tense times, with some distrust in the abilities of the “first-timers”. Inevitably it soon led to a violent confrontation between the manager of the new foundry they were setting up and the general manager.

That’s when Maira learnt his first lesson in the transformative power of deep listening. “To think and work together, [people had] to learn to listen to each other.”

In a conversation with Charles Assisi and NS Ramnath, Maira dives deep into that theme. “That ability is important for a leader; it impacts the quality of their decisions,” he says. He turns the gaze inward to examine why it is tough to just listen (his own defensive responses would get in the way).

To give you a peek into some of the things he discusses: This neglected leadership skill can bolster trust and engage employees. It can help leaders understand the nuances of a complex situation, make decisions that are fair and right, and find workable solutions despite divisive voices.

But it’s not about quick fixes or a formulaic approach to “solving”.

In keeping with our charter, this is a dialogue with a thought leader that explores his thoughts and ideas. It adds context and perspective that is not readily available. And you can expect more such conversations that push the needle that much more. All I’ll say for now is, the 90 minutes I spent listening are the most fruitful 90 minutes I’ve spent in recent times.

One of the questions Maira dwells on is the whole technology versus humanities argument for understanding the evolving reality. Yes, technology is disruptive. But a tech lens is insufficient to see the big picture.

In that vein, do read Charles’s two essays: A charming story on why he’s not afraid of artificial intelligence trumping humans anytime soon and why he’s confident trustworthy voices will not die out despite the cacophony on social media.

For more thought-provoking stories like these, subscribe to the newsletter if you haven’t already. 

With that, I wish you a great week ahead.  

Sveta Basraon

On behalf of Team Founding Fuel

Featured Stories

Leadership and the power of listening

In this podcast, Arun Maira dwells on how listening without judgement can help leaders understand the big picture and improve the quality of their decisions. (By Charles Assisi and NS Ramnath. Play Time: 91 minutes)

AlphaGo versus Kasparov, Puchu and Champu

[By David.Monniaux (Own work) (CC BY-SA 3.0) or (GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons]

That artificial intelligence is here to stay seems a given. But Garry Kasparov and I believe we aren’t going any place. My little girls need us. (By Charles Assisi. Read Time: 7 mins)

Opinion is free. But is it trustworthy?

[By Paco Silva under Creative Commons]

That those in the media are toast is now part of popular opinion. But the fact that an opinion is widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd. (By Charles Assisi. Read Time: 8 mins)

What We Are Reading

Battery storage: The next disruptive technology in the power sector

Low-cost storage could transform the power landscape. The implications are profound.  (By David Frankel and Amy Wagner)

‘Woo, Wow, and Win’: Designing a Captivating Customer Experience

Authors Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O'Connell talk about their book on designing the right customer experience. (Knowledge@Wharton Podcast)

Google’s plan to revolutionise cities is a takeover in all but name

The Google Urbanism project charts a plausible urban future based on cities acting as important sites for “data extractivism” – the conversion of data harvested from individuals into artificial intelligence technologies, allowing companies such as Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to act as providers of sophisticated and comprehensive services.


Since Toronto has recently chosen Alphabet to turn Quayside, a 12-acre undeveloped waterfront area, into a digital marvel, it wouldn’t take long to discover whether Google Urbanism will transcend or accommodate the predominantly financial forces shaping our cities. (By Evgeny Morozov)

Productivity: In a distracted world, solitude is a competitive advantage

There is no silver bullet to solving the complex problems ushered in by the information age. But there are some good places to start, and one of them is counterintuitive: solitude. Having the discipline to step back from the noise of the world is essential to staying focused. (By Mike Erwin)

AI in the boardroom: The next realm of corporate governance

Just as artificial intelligence is helping doctors make better diagnoses and deliver better care, it is also poised to bring valuable insights to corporate leaders — if they’ll let it. (By Barry Libert, Megan Beck, and Mark Bonchek)

From Our Archives

AlphaGo vs. Lee Se-dol: Why a win for AI is not a lose for humanity

[A finished game of Go on a 13 X 13 board for beginners by Chad Miller under Creative Commons]

When machines beat men, they make us seriously think about our place in a technologically advanced world and we tend to overestimate machines and underestimate men. (By NS Ramnath)

Unleash the potential of your people

[By Hans Braxmeier under Creative Commons]

Experiences with our teams have made us rethink our corporate objectives and the gains are extraordinary. (By Nitin Srivastava)

Designing a sharply positioned platform

[By Colin Behrens under Creative Commons]

All digital platforms have similar products or similar content. How is the consumer to distinguish between this glut of providers? (By Amrita Chowdhury)

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About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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