June 19th, 2012
10:09 AM ET

Letters to the President #1247: 'Rule two: A listening ear'

Reporter's Note: President Obama is running for re-election. This week I’m writing my favorite guidelines for any politician who wants to win.

Dear Mr. President,

Continuing with my guidelines for any candidate seeking election, I move today to Rule Two: Listen.

That’s it. A single word. Listen.

This is one of those things you’ve heard since you were a kid, but it matters more the older you get and the smarter you are…because smart people are, in my experience, the most likely to think they know everything. And this notion of overarching, superior intelligence is a rabbit hole which has lured a great many folks into its dark twists and turns. (More on that tomorrow.)

We all like to talk. Especially people in politics, the media, or big business. We all fancy ourselves to be ever so clever and wise, if only everyone else would just pipe down and follow our lead. But the smartest people I’ve known in my life have also been great listeners. They realize that no matter how brilliant they may be, they can never fully outstrip the collective wisdom of everyone else on the planet.

And the only way to access that wisdom is to shut up and listen. Listening can tell you if your message is spot on, or way off. Listening can let you know what people really care about, even if they don’t want to tell pollsters.

Just as important as all that: Listening, much more than anything you can ever say, shows people that you are interested in them. That is the first step to not only being elected as a leader, but to actually becoming one.

More tomorrow.


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