Leaders Are Listeners


Listening is a powerful and magnetic force. Have you ever noticed this? The people who listen to us are the ones that draw us closer. So, it makes sense why improved listening skills can make you a more effective leader. Whether you’re listening to your kids or in a meeting receiving feedback from your employees, it’s essential that you listen carefully and become more mindful of what others are saying between the lines.

As a leader, it’s not always easy to know what subordinates are thinking. It's quite common for those who speak out about their concerns to be labeled as complainers or having a bad attitude. Depending on the culture, there may be fears or frustrations around communication.

But, the leader who can listen clearly will develop relationships of trust and let others know their voice has value.

One of the ways a true leader can listen is by learning body language, being able to discern moods, facial expressions, and knowing behavioral issues. Listening leaders can easily recognize changes in a subordinate’s demeanor and whether or not they’re genuinely engaged in their work. Leaders know how to turn challenges around and create a more positive and thriving atmosphere; this is called emotional intelligence, and we will delve into that more deeply in the future.

Just know this -- if you are leading by listening, you have to slow down. You must also develop compassion and empathy for those who look up to you as a leader. Someone in your team may have issues at home that causes their performance or attitude at work to suffer. They are people, not machines. They may not want to reveal personal issues to you because they feel it might lower your perception of them and hurt their work reviews or prohibit promotions or other rewards. I once had an employee who was butting heads with the rest of the team. Several employees came to me about his performance and behavioral issues, and I too observed a decline in the quality of his work. I set up an informal meeting with him and gave him room to share. He tearfully shared the major issues he was dealing with at home; some severe enough to warrant me referring him to our Employee Assistance Program. And, although those issues at home didn't disappear overnight, his behavior at work did improve tremendously. Listening creates a place of safety for those who look to us for leadership.

Now, that sounds very warm and fuzzy, but I should also note that listening is one of the main drivers of results realized by your organization. When you listen, you create allies and champions among your subordinates. They’ll be much more likely to come to you proactively with problems and alert you of possible blind spots in your decisions. They want you to succeed because they know you appreciate their contributions. So, if you care about the bottom line, you have to listen.

You won’t see “good listener” as a requirement in a job description for leadership roles, but it should be. It’s one of the most fundamental traits that distinguishes a leader from a manager. And if you’re interviewing for a leadership role, it’s certainly one I’d bring up (hint, hint). An insightful human resources professional will recognize that listening is an essential quality for a future leader in their company or organization.

At the end of the day, listening is one of the first disciplines a leader must master. Through our Work of Leaders® profile and program, leaders not only discover how to listen but to harness the power of their unique listening and leading styles to create an improved vision, alignment and execution.

An organization’s true potential lies within its people, so I’ll end with a quote from Andy Stanley, author and authority on visionary leadership, “leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

For more information about Work of Leaders®, please visit www.coxswainadvisors.com/disc

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