In the mid-2000s I had the opportunity to see Mikhail Gorbachev speak in person at an industry conference… yes, that Mikhail Gorbachev, last leader of the Soviet Union: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Gorbachev It was an interesting and enlightening speech on various topics of those times. However, he made a very potent and timeless point on leadership.
Sheets of Paper
Very simply, he asked the audience (in Russian, as he does not speak English) to take some of the paper that had been distributed ahead of time and write down questions for him. His assistants would get them to him and he would answer some of the questions during his speech as time allowed. This he did to great affect. He was succinct, to the point and opinionated, which was exactly what I expected him to be. Obviously, he could not answer all of the questions as there were about five hundred attendees and he noted that as he ended his speech.
Listening and Leadership
He then made a statement that caught my attention. He boasted (I cannot think of a better word for his tone) that he most likely knew more about what the people, he emphasized, were worried about. He said he did so, because he asked for questions from the audience in all of his speeches around the world and he read every single one. He always answered some during the speech, but afterwards he would go through all of the papers, look for themes, understand what people were wondering about, what concerns they had and what they wanted him to talk about. So, he said, more so than most of the leaders in the world, he knew what people were thinking about because he listened. He felt that was a great benefit to him and he wished that more leaders in the world would do just that: take a little extra time to listen.