We all get a lot of advice on how to be a great/better/wonderful/etc. leader from the many good (and poor) leadership books, articles, training programs, podcasts, etc.  In my experience, an often-neglected leadership skill in many of these resources is listening.  That is a shame, because being a skilled listener fundamentally supports several important leadership components.  Effective listening, for example:

  • Shows respect
  • Strengthens relationships and rapport
  • Strengthens knowledge and understanding
  • Builds trust
  • Builds loyalty

All of these results, together, enhance teamwork and dedication to organizational goals.  Ultimately, the performance of both leaders and members of their teams improve – and all because of effective listening.

What are key ways that leaders can be effective listeners?

  • Make it a priority to regularly interact with others informally.  Do this by getting out of your personal workplace and meeting with staff where they work.  In the physical office space, this is known as “managing by walking around” (MBWA); in the virtual workplace, this is done via regular video “check-ins.” 
  • Always ask open-ended questions to prompt discussion (such as, “how are things going today”).
  • Spend at least 2/3 of the time listening instead of talking.

Steve Gutzler has created a nice graphic that shows more key ways to be an effective listener:

Many years ago, I learned from Susan and Peter Glaser (the Glasers are excellent communication and leadership experts; The Glasers – Home) how to better handle personal communication (in particular, in times of conflict).  They included adding to the above list paraphrasing back to the other person what you heard to help ensure that the information has been clearly understood.

Taking the time to put all of these behaviors into practice will make all of us better listeners and better leaders.  Always remember to listen with your ears, eyes, and heart.[i]

[i] For more information on how personal behaviors are critical components of leadership, a great resource is the NACM Leadership CORE Competency (Leadership – NACM Core). The “ears, eyes, and heart” phrase is taken from page 43 of the Leadership Curriculum.

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