Leaders who listen – truly listen – are those who demonstrate respect, care and humility. So why is it that listening is one of the top characteristics commonly lacking in leadership? Could it be that because we communicate every day, we unconsciously believe that we are good at it?
Listening cannot be what happens when we are waiting to speak. We all know the impact of not feeling heard, being dismissed by someone’s impatient presence, or talking to someone who is clearly distracted. As M. Scott Peck affirmed, “You cannot truly listen and do something else at the same time” and as Sheryl Sandberg stated, “Leadership is all about making others feel better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence”.
Without the fundamental characteristics mentioned of respect, care and humility, we encounter leadership that is driven by ego and disregard. Listening demonstrates respect by communicating to others that they matter. It exhibits interest and enables trusting and supportive relationships across all leadership levels.
The importance of being a good listener
Statements such as “I don’t feel heard”, “My view does not count”, and “I can’t speak to them” all indicate that people don’t feel respected, cared for or valued as a result of not being listened to.
Two things remain essential in a leader’s commitment to improving their listening skills, and hence, their leadership impact: evaluate listening skills and presence, as we cannot manage what we do not know, and invest in conscious listening practices.
Signs that you may not be a good listener:
- You are easily distracted.
- You give advice too soon – as leaders, we often feel compelled to offer solutions yet what this communicates is that “I know better than you”.
- You have little appetite for silence.
- You interrupt others while they are speaking.
- You listen only for facts – listening for what is said, what is not said and what the tone and body language are seeking to communicate, are essential parts of listening.
- You nullify feelings through statements such as “it’s not that bad” or “no need to feel that way”.
- Your body language does not support active listening – you provide little or no eye contact or other forms of acknowledgement.
- You derail conversations through changing the subject or steering the conversation in a different direction.
How to improve your listening skills:
- Focus: maintaining eye contact, improving body language and downing technology are some of the practices that demonstrate listening skills. In an age of chronic multi-tasking, giving people our full attention goes a long way toward respectful engagement.
- Discipline: listening is a conscious investment in leadership effectiveness and takes daily cognisance and commitment.
- Asking questions: effective questioning requires effective listening. Asking questions shows interest and openness to learn and ultimately personifies engagement.
- Humility: listening with humility requires openness (emotional intelligence), and communicates that “it is not about me, my preconceptions or my solutions”.
- Feedback: the best way to find out how to improve your listening skills is to ask those around you. Your action plan will emerge from the honest feedback gained from your family, friends and team members.
With the fast pace of life and its demands on us as leaders to meet deadlines, close deals and focus on strategic improvements, it is not difficult to understand why our focus is on that which needs doing. We are bombarded with information and requests, and it is necessary that we become selective, but when our selection prioritises our doing more than others’ being, our leadership presence and effectiveness is impacted. Wearing the label of disregard is a tough price for leaders to pay.
Author: Sue Bakker is Academic Head at TowerStone, a leadership centre which helps and empowers leaders to build a values-driven culture for sustainable success. Visit: www.towerstone-global.com.