“Winning the right to be heard” is another maxim I learned in my years as a volunteer Young Life leader. It simply meant, as leaders, we worked to have students granted us the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. We’d do this first by going to where they were at (physically, emotionally, socially) and building authentic, caring relationships with them. As a Young Life leader I found this maxim to be true, students were significantly more interested in what I had to say only after I demonstrated that I cared for them first.
Stephen Covey, in his classic book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, identifies this “win the right to be heard” concept as 5th of his seven habits. He called it “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey articulates this fundamental truth about human nature – people care about what others have to say only after believing others care for first. And what better way to demonstrate care for another person than to understand their perspective before trying to convince them to move to a different position.
As a leader in a non-profit organization, I’ve found that winning the right to be heard is absolutely the most effective way to move others to a new place. Why? Because non-profits have many constituent groups (including staff, donors, board, volunteers) to whom I lead and, at some level, I also work for and am accountable to. This means I can’t rely solely on my “positional” authority to move people in a new direction. And, more importantly, if I’m after commitment not compliance, then I’m compelled to seek first to understand before I’m understood, because people become committed when they know they’ve been heard.
And this principle is at the center of leadership at SpringHill – to go where we believe God’s called us to go, to be the kind of organization He’s called us to be – we need to earn people’s commitment to our mission and vision, we need their hearts, minds and resources to be with us. And to gain that level of trust, people need to sense first that we know, hear and care for them first as people.