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
- Few people were willing to share anything with
- 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