Listening intelligence is an important building block for strategic thinking. In fact, it was the major theme in a recent discussion with a senior executive about the components of strategic thinking.

Listening intelligence

Listening intelligence

Strategic Thinking Learning Tour

In his current role, people appreciate Dave’s ability to remain calm in a crisis and deliver short term results. But Dave wants to grow into other roles. For that, he needs to develop his strategic thinking capabilities. Given Dave’s preferred mode of thinking, this is a significant challenge. To meet it, we embarked on a journey to understand the components of strategic thinking.

Derek, Dave’s manager, loves to play on the field of BIG IDEAS. So, he was the first stop on our strategic thinking learning tour.

Listening Intelligence

We asked Derek to describe his strategic thinking process. He responded with stories from his recent listening tour. CEOs and CTOs of customers’ companies served as his guides and conversation partners. Derek has been on other listening tours with suppliers, leaders in adjacent industries, and more.

During our conversation, Derek never mentioned anything he said while on tour. That’s because he’s an intelligent listener. Derek knows he rarely gains new insights from hearing himself speak. So he asks questions.

  • Tell me what’s going on in your world, the big ideas and opportunities you’re thinking about
  • What emerging trends are you watching?
  • What’s the picture of the future you’re preparing for?
  • What should we be thinking about and preparing for, so we can help you succeed in that future?

Derek listens with no expectation of taking action on what he’s heard. This listening intelligence uncovers more questions within the answers.

Derek had a wonderful time in this playground of ideas. When the tour was over, he needed to brew on and integrate what he heard. He grabbed a pencil and a fresh pad of paper. He entered a quiet space. He took the well-know “step back” to gain perspective. A sense of the company’s future began to emerge.

On the right hand side of the paper he drew a box with few words inside. Next, he penciled an arc from the left margin to that future image. Then he wrote 3 questions.

  1. How do we get there?
  2. What don’t I know about how to get there?
  3. How can I find answers to those questions?

I suggested a 4th & 5th.

  • What important questions don’t I know enough to ask?
  • Who can help me find and answer those questions?

Derek added them to his list.

6 Tips To Grow Your Listening Intelligence

Dave, by contrast, doesn’t ask questions in search of new ideas and insights. He asks more narrow specific questions so he knows what to do next.

Derek is idea oriented, Dave is action oriented. It’s where his brain goes.

After our meeting with Derek, Dave and I identified 6 tips to help him think more strategically.

  1. Go on a learning journey.
    • Expect to get lost.
  2. Formulate BIG questions in advance
  3. As people respond, ask more BIG questions
    • Make notes of new questions as they occur to you. Ask yourself to what degree they will broaden the conversation.
    • Broaden or eliminate those that don’t, such as questions that elicit yes/no answers
      • Example: Do you think you’ll be in the same business five years from now? vs. How do you see your business changing over the next 5 years?
  4. Listen ten times more than you speak
  5. Speak mostly to ask questions
  6. When your mind goes into how-to mode, walk it back to discovery land

Anne Perschel
Anne Perschel

When she is not consulting; coaching; reading and writing about leadership; or enjoying her work in other ways; Anne can be found:


Listening to ocean waves receding over stones.

Enjoying the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions.

Taking in the scent of freesias, lilacs or salt water.

Enjoying the great, or not so great, outdoors and all variations of nature’s gifts.

At the gym.


As Seen In:

Listening Intelligence - Strategic Thinking Foundation