Deeper Listeners, More Impactful Leaders: How Really Listening is a Leadership Game Changer

“The quality of our attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking…
Attention is that powerful:  it generates thinking.  It is an act of creations.”
– Nancy Klein

It always amazes me how very simple acts can be the most powerful.  Like giving someone my full attention when she speaks.  As simple as it might seem, depending on my own levels of stress or fatigue, this can be the most challenging for me at times.

We’ve all been there: checking our phones for messages or in our minds jumping ahead to the next meeting or next part of the conversation.  First thing might just be understanding that we diminish our own impact when we “check out” of the conversation.

Then we can choose to listen more fully. With time, we may even notice that in addition to drawing people toward us more easily, we are actually also deriving more meaning from these exchanges.  At this point, we are probably also helping to create more meaning for the person with whom we are in conversation.

How well do you really listen when someone speaks?

Listening is a skill that we all could stand to deepen, not only to become more effective and successful leaders, but to enrich our lives as well.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
-Stephen R. Covey

Listening is a Basic Leadership Skill

Research says most of us will draw a blank on about half of what was said.  Do we really want to lead like that?

Good listeners are like diamonds – rare finds.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes in Fast Company that not only is quality listening an often ignored ability, but the skill of listening – and how effective we are at it – can determine our leadership potential.

He cites a study that revealed those who listen well oftentimes are better workers and have a greater sense of wellbeing. They are viewed as empathetic and interested.

We all might benefit from reflecting on these questions:

  • How much do I remember what my team says?
  • How often do I often interrupt?
  • While the other person is talking, where is my own mind (already focused on my response? somewhere other than what they’re actually saying, etc.)?
  • How often do I secretly harbor the feeling that I’ve got so much on my plate as a leader, no one could possibly offer anything that’s worth listening to?
  • To what extent do I believe that being the dominant speaker (rather than the listener) is what constitutes an effective leader?

It might be time to take a step back.

And truly listen.

Deeper Listeners, More Impactful Leaders

Julian Saipe brings up valid points in Forbes: young executives can sometimes be hesitant to admit they don’t know everything, while long-time senior executives may become confined in a rut, and do things simply for the reason that ‘they’ve always been done that way.’

As a result, a limbo exists: each maintains his/her own position without seeking new avenues, new opinions, new thoughts about doing things better. They’re not listening to anyone but themselves – and, even then, I would argue that they’re only listening to the fear voice and not the one of wisdom.

Additionally, society too often grooms us to push our views onto others. There seems to be a (scarily) widespread perception that great leaders are loud, opinionated and live by a “my way or the highway” mantra.  Just look at one of them who recently got elected to the highest position in the US…scary stuff.

Neither promotes creative or healthy work environments.  And neither leads to impactful leadership.

Listening to diverse opinions or perspectives encourages more inclusive work environments and higher performing teams, ones where workers know they are valued.  Innovation and productivity often flourish as a result.

“I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen.
Businesspeople need to listen at least as much as they need to talk.
Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”
— Lee Iacocca

Learning to Really Listen as a Leader

Listening makes better leaders.

Writing in Forbes, Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D. cites research that proves listening and better leaders go together.  Effective listening within a business setting has many positive effects:

  • Develops deeper levels of trust
  • Builds stronger team collaborations
  • Encourages greater levels of creativity
  • Engenders higher productivity

Every human wants to feel that we are important enough, worthy enough, to be listened to.  When we sense that what we are saying has little meaning or value to the other person, we become disengaged.  Imagine, therefore the effect on the people at work when they don’t feel listened to.

But how does one begin to listen more effectively?

Tami Corwin and Donato Tramuto writing in Fast Company offer a few tips:

  1. Be focused and present. Avoid distractions. Make a conscious choice to set aside time for genuine, authentic Simon Sinek suggests ‘be the last to speak.’
  2. Be curious. Ask many questions. Make listening an opportunity to learn.

Chamorro-Premuzic offers additional suggestions to becoming a more impactful listener:

  • Learn to see things from another person’s perspective by being empathetic.
  • Exercise self-control. Stop interrupting. Let people make their point.
  • Develop a reputation for being a good listener. Include everyone.

Like any other skill in life, listening is one from which we all can benefit by intentionally choosing to put our focus there. Today, I invite you to challenge yourself to listen with intention – the positive results may ripple out far beyond the experience of the moment.

“When we listen, we hear someone into existence.”
― Laurie Buchanan, PhD

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The Transformative Power of Forgiveness in Leadership

These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
People filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age?

My will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness,

-Don Henley,“Heart of the Matter”

What word in our human language is so powerful when acted upon that it can dissolve anger, crumble away resentment, and literally change lives?


It doesn’t mean giving in. It doesn’t mean forgetting what happened. And it doesn’t mean that what another person did was acceptable.

Forgiveness goes beyond that.

It’s an acceptance of what took place – not an agreement – and a moving beyond it. When we let go of our hurts, we break the bond that holds us to the person (or circumstance) that hurt us.

Without that resistance, that grudge, we can create a space for healing, positivity, and success.

And for leaders, working in an environment free from the dark cloud of non-forgiveness creates a workplace that can foster greater success and fulfillment.

Forgive: It Has Great Power in Leadership & Life

Nominated for a Nobel Prize, Project Forgive founder Dr. Shawne Duperon noted the positive effects of forgiveness in the workplace, benefits that all authentic leaders strive for.


  • fosters a workplace environment where there is no judgement or condemnation for mistakes, thereby raising levels of productivity and encouraging a more engaged workforce
  • encourages higher levels of creativity that generates effective problem-solving & greater teamwork
  • attracts higher levels of talent, notably from millennials, who thrive in team atmospheres & will make up 70% of the workforce by 2024

Of course, it’s totally human to make mistakes. We all do it all the time.  Thing is, we can hold onto our grudge of ourselves or others, or we can see it for what it is:  just another human being doing what humans do.

Duperon explains that when we can move beyond not forgiving, it enhances the workplace in many areas.

“When fostered in business and leadership environments, you cultivate greater loyalty, adventurous creativity, and increased productivity,” she added. “Leaders make mistakes all the time. At least the good ones do,” explained Duperon.

When We Forgive, We Give

Without forgiveness, anger thrives. Grudges are held…and justified.

When we forgive, we give someone a chance to do better – without the negative cloud of anger hanging over their every move. Forgiveness releases both us and them.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
-Lewis B. Smedes

Sometimes stereotyped as a “feminine” leadership attribute, forgiveness is a powerfully positive trait that both genders of leaders should cultivate. Writing in Forbes, Manpreet Dhillon notes that of the other feminine leadership traits, such as empathy, collaboration and cooperation, among others, forgiveness is one of the most critical to nurture. She offers a few suggestions to incorporate forgiveness in the workplace:

  • Emphasize all the good that a person does, instead of focusing on the mistakes.
  • Discover why a person made a mistake. Many times, we assume we know. Ask.
  • Remember that generally, people are good at heart.
  • Talk with the person and learn how/why the mistake was made – and how it might be corrected in the future.
  • Self-reflect: Might you be judging people too critically, while overlooking their positive traits?

Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter notes that for a more positive future, leaders must forgive past wrongs.

The best leaders forgo the temptation to take revenge on those who may have worked against their climb up the ladder. “The most important aspect of making mistakes is to own them and learn from them so we don’t repeat them. This is how we move forward, rather than staying in the past,” Kanter notes.

Incorporate Forgiveness in the Workplace

Conflict goes along with the job of being a leader: it’s inevitable. Smart leaders know how to capitalize on the opportunity which conflict presents – the chance to work through difficulties, thereby developing closer relationships – and, from those, more connected and more productive teams.

A great leader knows the power of forgiveness and makes it an everyday part of the job. Others, however, may be tempted (as some people are) to hold and nourish a grudge.

Grudge holding and ‘making people pay’ for their mistakes have no place in leadership. Mahatma Gandhi summed it up succinctly:

“An eye-for-an-eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

One of my beloved professors, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, writing in HBR, notes that unfortunately for many leaders, revenge is more the practice than forgiveness, explaining that we have an innate sense of justice that serves as a way of protecting ourselves. How ironic, though, that revenge actually ends up hurting us more than others.

The flip side, notes Kets de Vries, is that revenge only breeds more revenge. “When you cannot forgive the people who have hurt you, these feelings become a mental poison that destroys the system from within,” he noted.

According to Kets de Vries, studies have shown that the venomous effects of revenge and hatred even negatively affects our immune systems. Additionally, he notes, not being able to forgive fosters depression, hostility and anxiety, and is linked to premature death.

Be a Better Leader Through the Power of Forgiveness

Leaders – and our entire world – need to practice the power of forgiveness.

It is not always easy. Especially in this crazy world we live in where by and large higher-level values and behavior seem to have been swept under the rug.  Perhaps societal (and political, unfortunately) influences have touted successful leaders as hard and unforgiving, but not forgiving only fosters anger, resentments and hurt feelings, hardly a foundation upon which a healthy, inclusive workplace atmosphere is cultivated. Forgiveness is a key component of a heart-centered leadership approach.

Forgiving doesn’t condone wrong behaviors or actions. After all, we can’t change what happened, but we do have a say in how we accept and move past it.

Forgiveness gives us that space to breathe, move forward, let go, and learn from mistakes – a valuable skill we all need to nourish.

Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.
-Cherie Carter-Scott

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