Social responsibility is one of the hottest topics in business today.  There are a variety of avenues that organizations interested in embracing social responsibility can pursue.  Whether their effort is focused on improving the environment or supporting the community, there is often a local component to what organizations do because they want to appear as though they are changing things for the better in their back yard.

Leaders in successful organizations come with great ideas and suggestions on how to tackle some of the challenges facing the community.  However, they rarely come prepared to listen.  A few weeks ago at I heard Fadi Ghandour, the CEO of Aramex speak at TEDxRamallah about his experience with social entrepreneurship.  One of the lessons learned that Fadi outlined was his experienced with a marginalized community in Amman.  He provided an overview of the various problems that the citizens of this community were facing.  He then shared something that almost seemed obvious in hind sight.  He shared that the issue was not the fact that the citizens of this community were not aware of what the solutions to the problems were, on the contrary, the issue is one of empowerment and support.  He highlighted one example dealing with trash and how one of the young women of the community came with a proposed solution.  It was not a solution that some outside consultant provided, it was home grown.  All she needed was support to implement the idea through funding and the like.

As outsiders interested to help we often come to the table thinking that we have the answers to problems and indeed in some cases we do.  However, what we need to constantly remind ourselves of is that sometimes the best solution does not require a loud mouthed consultant telling the community what to do but someone who is willing to listen and ask a simple question “how can I help?”

Interestingly enough this approach can apply not only in organizations focused on social responsibility but can also be beneficial on projects in general.  Often earning our compensation as consultants hinges not on coming up with the ideas but on our ability to actively listen and integrate the various ideas that are coming our way in a manner that allows the organization to succeed.

This listening business is easier said than done, especially for someone who is paid to do exactly the opposite, which is talk. There are several techniques that can be learned and adopted to enable us to become better listeners but they all start with a simple and basic premise.  This premise is being willing to admit that everyone involved (stakeholders) have something positive to contribute and that we don’t have to be the smartest people in the room.  If we are able to internalize this we will find that we are a lot more effective in change and transformation, whether it is for a social cause in a non-profit organization, or implementing strategy in for-profit corporation.