Are you a good listener?

If you’re going to lead, you need to be. A 2018 article from Harvard Business Review states “managers who listen well are perceived as people leaders, generate more trust, instill higher job satisfaction, and increase their team’s creativity.”

If you want to lead, you’ve got to use your ears.

I’ve learned that truth several times over the course of my leadership career. In fact, as a young leader, my highest priority was expressing my ideas and convincing others to buy into them. I was less interested in listening to feedback or learning what others had to say. As a result, I experienced my share of leadership “misses”—initiatives, ideas, or plans that simply didn’t connect with the people I led.

It took me a while to realize the cost of not listening—in fact, I sat down and made a list of the ways that not listening was hurting my leadership:

  • Few people were willing to share anything with me
  • My leadership was based on assumptions
  • My ideas were the only ones being implemented
  • No one was taking ownership of tasks except me
  • My team was disconnected

All of those are terrible circumstances for a leader to face, and even more so when they’re self-inflicted wounds. As I’ve become a better listening leader, I’ve learned that the people who follow leaders are continually asking three questions: Do you like me? Can I trust you? Can you help me? Leaders cannot accurately answer those questions if they aren’t listening for them.

Listening is one of the core habits of leaders who connect with their people. I outline all seven habits in The Communication Shift in my new book, Leadershift: 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. I could spend a lot of time talking about any one of those seven habits, but for this post I want to share with you the four changes I made to become a better, more effective listener.

I Reminded Myself to Listen Well Every Day

Whether it’s one-on-ones or group meetings, listening well begins with being intentional. To keep myself accountable to my intention to listen well, I devised a simple plan: any time I met with someone, I would take notes on a legal pad. At the top of t page, I would write a large, block L that stood for listen. During those meetings, I would occasionally stop and look at that L as a reminder to shut up and pay attention to what the other person or people were saying.

I Stopped Interrupting

As a young leader, talking to people often sparked ideas in me. When that happened, I often became so excited about sharing my new thought that I stopped listening to the other person’s ideas and started listening for a chance to share my own! And if I didn’t hear a natural break in the conversation, I sometimes created one by interrupting.

Hear me on this: when you interrupt another person, you’re effectively saying, “What I want to say is more important than what you want to say.” It may be unintentional, but when you devalue or invalidate the ideas of others because you’re too busy interrupting the train of thought with your own, you create a disconnect. As leaders, you can’t afford those kinds of lapses. You need to stop interrupting.

I Started Asking Questions

When someone you’re talking to asks you great questions, don’t you feel like they’re really engaged with the conversation? Questions push for greater clarity, deeper context, and further conversation. They also happen to be a literal invitation for the other person to talk! Questions are also a sign of a great listener because people who actively listen become naturally curious about the person speaking and what’s being said. Here’s a leadership truth I discovered that’s served me well: my ears never got me into trouble. When I learned to ask questions, I became a much better listener.

I Invited People to Keep Me Accountable for Listening

The final step I took to become a better listener was to ask others to let me know whenever they felt I wasn’t listening to them. Why did I take that step? Because not listening was a blind spot for me, and I needed help to see it. Whenever someone called me out for not listening, I apologized, closed my mouth, and concentrated on listening. There’s nothing like accountability for keeping you honest!

The people you lead are hungry for connection with you, and one of the fastest and most effective ways to connect with others is to listen well. When our people know we are not only listening, but listening well, it creates a connection that strengthens the entire team and reinforces that positive behavior across the organization.


  1. Dustin Nelson on February 19, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you John! I appreciate you for being so generous with your time to help us grow! I hope I have the pleasure of meeting you one day!

  2. Kathy Bonney on February 19, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Every time I read your Blog, I feel as though you are writing just what I need to hear. I am going to try the L is for listening to see if I can improve my listening skills. I am grateful that you mentor me. Thank you!

  3. Ryan on February 20, 2019 at 12:49 am

    Fantastic advice. I to have learned to listen and listen with attention. I have noticed the difference when people know that you are genuinely interested. You gain more respect and demonstrate being engaged with others. Thank you John.

  4. KweenSisan on February 20, 2019 at 2:32 am

    This, came just at the right time. Thank you Sir.

  5. khaya booi on February 20, 2019 at 4:33 am

    Thank you Sir,”Go first principle” this is relevant and powerful it differentiates the between the leader and the follower.

  6. Aribisala Tosin Moyinoluwa on February 20, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Highly impactful!!!

  7. MIKE WHEELER on February 20, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    I have to remind myself to constantly take the time to listen without interrupting. I have some many thoughts that arise and I want jump right in….but I purposely have to stop myself. I will try to ask more questions as suggested to deepen my understanding.
    Thank you Mr Maxwell for sharing.

  8. Consuela Ftazier on February 20, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  9. Marcela on February 20, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Listening well is a challenge that when met, makes a world of difference . Thanks so much for the clarity in your tips to improve!

  10. Carmen Julia Mendoza on February 21, 2019 at 8:49 am

    Happy Birthday Pastor John!!, more and more blessings on your life and ministry, I remember you with great affection from global 20/20 in west Palm Beach, a leader of service of Jesus, be part of his team of coach for the glory of God. Jeremiah 17: 7????

  11. Jerryclurb on February 22, 2019 at 8:29 am

    I am new here

  12. Ed Van Allen on February 22, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Great article, Pastor!
    These days listening is a lost art and even the best of us lose it from time to time and most often at times when we would be better served to apply it!

    James 1:19(a) “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak…”

  13. Karen Koehn on February 23, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Thanks for a great article with practical, actionable advice!

  14. Gail Williamson on February 24, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you for the reminder to stay in the moment while listening and to do it quietly. I like to think I’ve come a ways since speaking to my teenagers years ago, seeing their eyes glaze over and still continuing to talk. Hopefully, my colleagues now and in the future have felt the benefits of some of my learning!

  15. Angelica on February 26, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    I relate with the sparkle of ideas and the excitement to share them leading to interruptions in the communication. It can be cultural too. It is normal in some culture for such lively exchange, yet I have learned to capture those ideas in a notepad and wait for an opportunity to introduce them. Asking questions is definitely a better way to show that you are interested in what one has to say.

  16. Godwin on March 5, 2019 at 6:44 am

    Wow!! This is great. I am becoming my dream person since I started reading your articles. God continue to add you more grace.

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  20. […] part of that discussion, Leadership Consultant John Maxwell recently shared his own experience as a new leader. Eventually, he realized that he was doing most of the talking […]

  21. ayana loreto on February 25, 2020 at 11:08 am

    Thank you for this quick article John!

    I am about to attend a meeting with a new leader here at my current work place, your ideas, advice, and overall experience has served me as a tool ever since I discovered you, thanks!

  22. Juanito Wall on February 26, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    I have learned a lot by lessening to your podcast

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