Listening

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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