In The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, I read that “the average person suffers from three delusions: 1) that he/she is a good driver, 2) that he/she has a good sense of humor, and 3) that he/she is a good listener.”
Although that is mostly true, it is meant to make light of a very real leadership dilemma: we aren’t as good at listening as we think, and listening is critical to our success as leaders.
I believe that the best leaders are listeners. Here’s why:
Understanding people precedes leading them
If you want to be more effective connecting with people, make it your goal to understand them.
I love this quote from Herb Cohen – “Effective listening requires more than hearing the words transmitted, it demands that you find meaning and understanding in what is being said. After all, meanings are not in words, but in people.”
A leader’s biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. Most often, we listen to reply.
To be worthy of the responsibility of leadership, a person must have insight into the human heart. That is why leadership finds its source in understanding.
Listening is the best way to learn
It is no accident that we have one mouth and two ears! When we fail to listen, we shut off much of our learning potential.
The leader is the one who should be asking the questions. The reason that many leaders haven’t mastered the art of asking questions is because they can’t control the response. It is a control issue. But the reality is that control is not found in the response given, control is found in the questions you ask.
In my experience, the higher people climb in leadership, the more authority they have, and the less they are forced to listen to others. Listening is not just for advancement, listening is for connection. Connection does more for sustaining leadership than advancing in leadership. So, the further we go, the greater our need to listen!
Listening establishes trust
Effective leaders are always good communicators, but that means a lot more than just being a good talker.
David Burns says it this way: “The biggest mistake you can make in trying to talk convincingly is to put the highest priority on expressing your ideas and feelings. What most people really want is to be listened to, respected, and understood. The moment people see that they are being understood, they become more motivated to understand your point of view.”
When leaders listen to their team and use what they hear to make improvements that benefit the organization, a foundation of trust is built. But, when leaders do the opposite, over time the team will start looking for someone who will listen to them.
Listening Will Improve the Organization
The bottom line is this — when the leader listens, the organization gets better.
Is it possible to be a leader without listening? Yes.
Is it possible to be a good leader without listening? No.
No leader can take an organization to the highest level without being a good listener.
Why? Because you can never get the best out of people if you don’t know who they are, where they want to go, why they care, what they think, and what they have to contribute.
You can only learn these things if you listen.
Now, let’s apply it!
Here are 3 practices I use to become a better listener.
- Give yourself a listening audit.
The next few times you are in meetings, track how many minutes you spend speaking and how many minutes you spend listening. If you’re not spending at least 80 percent of your time listening, you need to improve. Try writing “L” on your notes where you will see it to remind you to listen!
- Give your full attention.
Think about the people who are most important in your life. The next time you have a conversation with them, stop everything you’re doing, give them your undivided attention, and look them in the eye as they speak. If you see surprise, avoidance, or hostility in their expression, it may be because they feel you have not really listened to them in the past.
- Seek out people you’ve neglected.
Effective leaders are active listeners. Active listening includes seeking out the thoughts, opinions and feelings of others. The best way to do this is with good questions. Start with the top leaders on your team. If you haven’t heard from some of your key people recently, seek them out and give them your ear.
I want to challenge you to be intentional about becoming a better listener because I’ve learned this from experience – if you grow as a listener, you will grow as a leader.