One top-flight executive who has exquisite reality recognition and thus survival skills has raised listening to a high art. His name is Andy Grove. Back in 2001, I interviewed Grove, then the CEO of Intel Corporation. He is a legend in the annals of technology and business. Grove discovered the impurity in silicon (sodium) and thus helped launch the whole computer age. He also co-founded Intel, the dominant manufacturer of computer chips and microprocessors. And he is known to be as tough as he is brilliant.
Well, he certainly was testy the day I interviewed him. I could see him grilling his press person as they approached the conference room in which my camera crew and I were setting up. When he reluctantly sat down, he barked that he didn’t have much time. I tried to make some friendly small talk. Grove would have none of it. I explained that we were there to learn how he thought, to find out what his philosophical paradigm was. “What makes you think I have one?!” he snapped. Not until the fourth or fifth question did he relax his guard, finally convinced that we weren’t wasting his time.
Grove is a person keenly aware of risk and opportunity. He told us that when he was a boy, he and his mother assumed gentile identities and hid from the Nazis. As a college student he escaped Hungary just ahead of the advancing Soviet Red Army. On the central subject of prescience, or recognizing reality before others, Grove stressed observation, listening, and gathering of information, what he called the “absorption” of data.
“You have to immerse yourself like a sponge into the environment and make yourself available to be influenced by people who want to influence you, who have to influence you… so each of these decisions properly has to be preceded by a period of absorption. ‘Listening,’ if you wish.”
Note that Grove stresses that there are people in your path who have information for you, people to whom you might not typically listen -- people who are in a position to see what you can not see, and “have” to communicate with you. This need stems from their sense that their knowledge is important, telling, or helpful. You may find it disturbing simply because it doesn’t fit within the premises upon which you are making your choices. These individuals may be far down the organizational ladder, they may be naturally reticent, they may be persons you rarely listen to, they may be children… but what they have to say may help you tremendously in your business, relationships or even your health.
Donald Van de Mark has interviewed hundreds of leaders in business and politics including: Andrew Weil, MD, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, Jack Welch, Starbucks' Howard Schultz and Intel's Andy Grove, in his nearly 3 decades as a correspondent and anchor at CNN, CNBC and public television. He integrates practical tips from these great leaders to provide a riveting motivational speech on the personality traits of successful people. Donald is also the host of the corporate training video, The Wisdom of Caring leaders DVD training.