It's a skill too many leaders underestimate.
I was young and relatively new to the professional work world, with an abundance of motivation and drive. The executive I was reporting to inherited me and the work I was doing in a reorganization.
When I would meet with him, he didn’t ask about me or my work, what I wanted or what I thought about things. When he spoke he expressed his opinions and ideas. When I spoke, he let distractions take over his attention and rarely made eye contact with me. Feeling unneeded (and more than a little disrespected), I left that position for something else. It was a hard decision, but I realized it was his loss. If he had listened more, perhaps he would have found something of value in me and the work I did.
Many leaders have a role that they identify with—manager, boss, executive, team leader—whatever it is. Behind the veil of that role they make an assumption that they need to be the expert and all knowing. This can result in a leader tuning out the very people who can help them and their organizations to be successful. While there is a time and place for a leader’s knowledge and expertise, leadership success also requires the humble act of listening more than you are now.
I often hear that listening implies agreement, or that if a leader listens too much they can be seen as passive or weak. I would counter that there are great benefits in listening more.
Consider these benefits of better listening:
You will build and strengthen bonds. Although talking is one way to build bonds, I find that listening—the deep kind that many of us rarely do—is even better. People who are truly listened to feel heard and respected. When they feel heard and respected, they are willing to do what it takes to support the work of the organization.
People will feel valued. It might be hard to find a time in your life when you felt really listened to. But if you can recall such an event, you’ll remember that you felt special—and valued. When employees feel valued, they become more self confident and self reliant, freeing you up to step away from the day to day work to do the important work of leading people.
You’ll learn important things. When your mouth isn’t getting its usual workout and you are listening well, you’ll learn a lot about others and maybe a little about how you can help others develop and get the work done.
You’ll make better decisions. The decisions you make will be enhanced by what you learn when you listen to others more. Your decision-making will get even better when you withhold your judgment while you listen to the answers.
You’ll become approachable. Being approachable might sound trite, but if people are avoiding you now, wait until you start listening to them. You’ll get the information you need to be able to be your best as a leader.
Listening doesn’t imply agreement; it’s a strength that all leaders need to cultivate. All kinds of good things will come your way when you listen more.