Can listening make you a better leader? Many of us are more used to speaking than listening – after all, that’s what we expect from a leader, isn’t it? How could active listening make you a better leader?
Our ability to listen effectively is often impaired by our own internal dialogues, assumptions and agendas. Despite what we may believe, just like expressing strong opinions and taking decisive actions, listening is an active process that involves focusing on what is being said whilst simultaneously bracketing our own intrusive thoughts and distractions. Those leaders who apply genuine listening skills and engender this trait within their people are far more likely to generate a thriving organisation.
Most of us know first-hand that employees will often ‘go the extra mile’ when they feel led by those who genuinely appear to care about who they are and what they represent to the broader team or organisation. Employees are more than just deployable resources. Many leaders lose sight of the fact that each employee is a valuable asset who embodies a range of unique capabilities and aptitudes outside of their immediate job function. When we fail to apply active listening skills with our people (or even inadvertently close the conversation down by interrupting or distractedly playing with our mobile phone!), we lose a fantastic opportunity to understand them more fully and to demonstrate appreciation and empathy for them as individuals.
Moreover, we risk jeopardising the future progress of the organisation by failing to allow the full expression of diversity. Innovation is generally promoted by listening. When a leader is too directive or quick to react, the organisation misses out on any improvements or solutions that another individual might discover by applying their unique background to the situation.
Leaders who judge others too quickly are extremely unlikely to be applying active listening skills! Being decisive can also easily lend itself to making snap judgements and rejecting different styles or approaches to a situation. Leaders who are effective listeners validate and ask clarifying questions – they do not make assumptions, but use the interaction as an opportunity to learn. Conversely, when we judge, we tend to limit innovation and de-motivate employees by reducing feelings of responsibility, control and importance. Active listening requires a far greater degree of time and patience than traditional forms of leadership, but it also opens us to new ways of looking at the world and others. In doing so, it makes us far more approachable, inspires more honest conversations and promotes an enhanced level of personal and professional growth in both ourselves and others
Great leaders are not just hearing conversations; they are listening to them and engaging in the dialogue in a manner which ultimately strengthens working relationships and creates a virtuous circle for all concerned. These leaders are profoundly present in the moment and acutely aware of verbal and non-verbal communication. Consequently, they are consistently tuned in to the dynamics that are taking place around them; meaning that they can more effectively inspire professional development and overall performance.
It is estimated that within an average working day, we spend about 45% of our time listening but only have an actual comprehension rate of 25%. Moreover, less than 3% of all professionals have undertaken any type of formal training in these skills and techniques. Surely, given the inherent importance of good active listening skills, this is a prime opportunity which is being missed?