We have all heard that listening is a critical skill for a leader to have and more importantly become proficient in. At some point in our lives we have all read an article, heard a speech or even attended a class that focused on the importance of listening as part of effective communication. And we know this intuitively.
Very often listening is thought of as a passive activity when in actuality it is a highly active process which requires the use of many muscles the most important of which is the brain! Ernest Hemingway said,”When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” And the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz shares this sentiment, “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking!” Not a great combination for success!
When they are listening most people are selectively listening for their opportunity to contribute something to the conversation that will make them sound smart, make someone else wrong, steal the spotlight, be funny, just to get noticed or be acknowledged. But how effective can we be as a leader, either personally or professionally, when our focus and attention is solely on us. Remember, your role as a leader is to nurture talent, bring out the best in someone, and to reach them on an emotional level so they will want to “follow you”. Great leaders have great followers! Would you follow someone you did not believe was at all interested in what you had to say?
How much more effective could we be if we moved away from, “what will this comment do for me” to “what will actively listening to what this person has to say do for him or her”? Now you are taking a more system’s view of listening and how it affects this and downstream conversations, relationships and how you are perceived as a leader. Marshall Goldsmith states in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, that the failure to listen is the most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues. That is a powerful statement!
The concepts behind listening are pretty basic and ones we already know but have somehow become buried under responsibilities, objectives and expectations. We treat listening as another TASK or TO DO on a list of many. In reality listening transcends “the doing”. It really speaks to “the being” of leadership, how do we want to show up and be seen as a leader. Are your interactions more about “doing” or “being”? Are your behaviors aligned with how you want to be seen and perceived as a leader? Listening requires discipline – the discipline of attention, remaining engaged and turning the focus away from ourselves to another.
The Litmus Test: You know you are hitting the mark when you develop the ability to make the person speaking feel that they and what they have to say is incredibly valuable!