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Leaders are Listeners

December 15, 2016

If you are a leader, you are probably paid to talk. If that is not your main responsibility as a leader, you are certainly called upon to speak at various times – board or stakeholder and executive team meetings, public presentations of the organization, etc. By virtue of your position as a leader, you are required to be a speaker.

ryan walterThere was a time in my life when I found myself surrounded by people who were talkers. Not only were some of these individuals verbal processors, some of them definitely had the gift-of-the-gab. As I listened, and sometimes become annoyed because I couldn’t get in a word edgewise, I realized… to my horror and amusement… I sometimes could be the person in the group who was verbose!

It actually caused me to put a reminder into my daily planner so that every day I would remember to “Be silent when you are tempted to speak.”

While a leader needs to be an effective communicator, s/he does not need to be a good talker. More importantly, a leader needs to be a good listener.

Listening helps you understand individuals… and thus serve/lead them more effectively. You learn a person’s real desires, goals, and what matters to them when you listen to them. As you hear their story – and everyone has a story – you can begin to understand why they serve your organization.

Listening not only helps you understand the individuals, it helps you understand the big picture too! As you listen to multiple people, you should be able to hear certain themes emerging… some encouraging to a leader and perhaps some problems too. You cannot fix a problem if you do not know it exists and sometimes, the positional leader can be the last one to know about an issue in the company.

Sometimes a leader genuinely thinks they are listening. An individual shares a concern in a couple minutes and then the leader speaks for 15 minutes, thinking s/he is participating in “active listening,” hearing a person’s concern and then re-phrasing it to make sure they understand it well. Yet the individual leaves not feeling listened to but talked at.

Unfortunately, a leader may not discover they are a poor listener until a crisis. In various ways, individuals have been trying to tell the leader there is a developing issue but the leader has been closed to listening or selectively hears only certain parts of the conversation. Finally, a person/group erupt in frustration and get the leader’s attention!

And that leads to the third benefit of being a good listener. Good listeners get good ideas from others. The idea may come directly from another person or may simply trigger something in your mind that becomes the solution to a problem.

As you lead today, don’t only consider what are others hearing me say?
Ask yourself, what am I hearing from others?

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