Many years ago, in those early days of leadership, I struggled to be a good listener. For some reason, I had this idea when I moved into leadership that I had to be the one talking. Leading had translated for me to always having the right answer, an opinion, and a solution. But as I began to watch leaders that I admired I realized they were listening way more than they were talking. I would notice that while they came into the meetings with agenda items, many times they spent more time allowing the team to share ideas and look for solutions. As a member of the team, I loved that. I loved being asked for my opinion, I loved being heard and I found I trusted these leaders more than others that did not listen as well. I learned by watching these powerful leaders that I needed to adapt my behavior and start listening more than I talked.
I wish I could say that this lesson is learned and I’ve mastered it. But that is so not true! I still struggle to shut up and let others talk. I struggle with silence in conversations. BUT I have taken to heart the lessons I’ve learned by watching good listeners and I work hard all the time to be one.
I was teaching this topic recently from John Maxwell’s book Leadership Gold. In Chapter 6 he outlines key reasons listening is essential for a successful leader.
Understanding People Precedes Leading Them– In order to connect with your team, you have to understand what their hopes, dreams, and motivations are. And that requires you to listen. You cannot lead successfully without making it your goal to learn people. And the only way you can do that is to be quiet and listen.
Listening Is the Best Way to Learn– When we are talking we aren’t learning. In one on one situations I’ve developed this skill but I find that when it comes to group settings like meetings I have to really focus on the skill of listening. John mentioned a trick in his book that I’ve started using which is to place an L in the corner of your notepad (or agenda) as a visual to remind you to listen. I love that trick!
Listening Can Keep Problems from Escalating. A Cherokee proverb says, “Listen to the whispers and you won’t have to hear the screams.” WOW isn’t that powerful. When you become secure in your listening abilities you then become more comfortable asking for honest communication without becoming defensive. This allows you to address the small issue before they get out of hand and it also hones your intuition to underlying problems people might not be direct in communicating.
Listening Establishes Trust. When I think about this lesson from John’s book I am reminded of a prior boss I had, Patti, that I trusted explicitly. At the time I don’t think I could put my finger on why the trust was so deep but looking back I do think it was because I believed she understood me, was willing to listen to my point of view, was open to debating issues and always made a point to allow me to speak my mind. When you fail to listen to your people your ability to lead them will diminish and many will seek out other leaders to follow who will listen to them.
In order to get the best out of your team, they need to know you hear them, understand them and are willing to allow them to express their opinions, Can you be a leader without listening, of course. But to be a good leader you have to be a great listener.
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