As executive coaches and management consultants, we have worked with hundreds of individuals and organizations in our combined 35+ years of experience. As such, people often ask us what makes some organizations successful and others less so—despite similar conditions.

We recently sat down to mull this one over—and came back to what we have seen over and over again. The secret to success comes down to one thing: a leader’s willingness to influence and to be influenced by every member of the organization.

Organizations today need leaders who are willing (and able) to influence everyone in the organization—not just the people in leadership roles. Success today requires that leaders are able to engage in intelligent, non-patronizing, effective conversations with everyone in the organization.

We recently met with a leader of an organization who was asking why he was not able to rally his people to enact his vision. He said that he talked to everyone but no one seemed terribly excited by his vision for the company. With the help of an anonymous 360° questionnaire, we found that while he may have “talked” to everyone, he was communicating with no one. The members of his organization experienced his talking as a self-serving exercise that made it “appear” as if he cared about “the people.” In reality, they experienced him as indifferent to their lives and their experience of the organization. It was no wonder he couldn’t rally “his people” —they weren’t “his” people at all.

Communicating is not talking; communicating is listening—listening deeply and thoughtfully to what is, and to what is not, being said. Communication requires the use of one’s eyes and ears, and on occasion one’s voice. Leaders who know how to communicate and allow themselves to be influenced by what they hear and see can create organizations that achieve unprecedented success, because they have taken the time to listen to the people who make up the organization.