For the intelligence professional, honing the fine art of listening is of utmost importance. Effective listening is a force multiplier and can serve as the foundation for both great leadership and tactical day-to-day efforts. History and present-day times show that all great leaders have learned and practiced this unique ability. Both Presidents Reagan and Obama have demonstrated this skill by surrounding themselves with great advisers, listening to them, and then making important decisions based on the input received. Conversely, one recent political candidate was partially discredited when trying to answer complicated questions about constitutional law, which was not the candidate’s area of expertise. A better course of action would have been to say, “I am not an expert in constitutional law, but I will surround myself with advisers who are and I will listen to their counsel before making my decisions.”
I once served under a brilliant intelligence commander who possessed all the traits of a great leader, except for the simple fact that he talked too much. During routine meetings, he consistently provided only his point of view, which ultimately hurt the effectiveness of our organization. To his credit, he listened to this concern and then agreed to a disciplined meeting format in which he spoke for the first five minutes, his staff was given 50 minutes to brief him, and then he used the final five minutes to issue his relevant guidance. This new meeting format worked very well. His expert staff briefed him, he listened and issued guidance, and our organization became even more successful.
The most effective intelligence today comes from multi-discipline intelligence, a synchronization of multiple “INTs,” if you will. Geovisualization products portray a graphic representation and serve as the backbone for managing and sharing information from the IMINT, HUMINT, SIGINT, and MASINT disciplines. These multiple “INTs” confirm and support one another and allow our decision makers to act with confidence. By listening to one another, these sophisticated intelligence products solve some of the most complex intelligence and national security challenges that face our nation.
As intelligence professionals, while we expect our leaders and decision makers to listen to us and consider our sophisticated intelligence products and solutions, we must first remember that effective listening skills start with us. Let’s begin by considering the opinions of others and become great listeners. When this happens, the right decisions will be made and our nation will ultimately become a much safer place.