Sam Palmisano Learned This Leadership Lesson While Doing Business In Japan

Sam Palmisano

Photo: IBM

IBM Chairman Sam Palmisano disrupted his industry, and like any good executive, he did it because he knows how to lead.One of the most difficult parts of leadership is taking a step back and listening.

In an article for McKinsey Quarterly, Amgen’s CEO Kevin Sharer talks about how he was a terrible listener until Palmisano convinced him to change:

The best advice I ever heard about listening—advice that significantly changed my own approach—came from Sam Palmisano, when he was talking to our leadership team. Someone asked him why his experience working in Japan was so important to his leadership development, and he said, “Because I learned to listen.” And I thought, “That’s pretty amazing.” He also said, “I learned to listen by having only one objective: comprehension. I was only trying to understand what the person was trying to convey to me. I wasn’t listening to critique or object or convince.”

That was an epiphany for me because as you become a senior leader, it’s a lot less about convincing people and more about benefiting from complex information and getting the best out of the people you work with. Listening for comprehension helps you get that information, of course, but it’s more than that: it’s also the greatest sign of respect you can give someone. So I shifted, by necessity, to try to become more relaxed in what I was doing and just to be more patient and open to new ideas. And as I started focusing on comprehension, I found that my bandwidth for listening increased in a very meaningful way.

In the article, Sharer also talks about how corporate culture plays a huge role in being able to actually listen well; and that strategic listening is critical if you want to be able to sense any “danger” that may be on the horizon. If you’re not in tune to that, the consequences could be dire.

Now read about how Sam Palmisamo transformed IBM in 10 years >

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.