A leader is most often associated with action, articulate assessments and directive pronouncements, but how much better can a leader be if they perfect the art of listening?
Just recently I heard that the President of the United States of America was holding “listening meetings”. In spite of the polarizing views held about the President, I was impressed with the intent of these meetings – at least the title of them. What better way to learn about the gravity and nuances of critical topics than to listen to experts! No doubt there are examples of quite the reverse behavior that litter presidencies and other positions of leadership that we could discuss.
You have may heard the phrase, ‘heard but not listened to’. For many employees that is their experience of leaders. Their contribution is heard, but is it really ‘listened’ to? What do I mean by that? Well, is the background of the message, the meaning of the message, the projection of the message and the intent of the message understood? How deeply do leaders consider the contributions of others? I’d like to suggest 3 reasons why a leader needs to listen more:
1. Leaders are not infallible
Now this sounds obvious. I have however worked with leaders who have their ideas so set in their own minds, that the only person who could sway them might be the CEO. Some of these leaders have gone so far down the track of their choosing, without really listening to the input of others, that they have wasted considerable time and energy back-tracking when things don’t quite go according to plan. Leaders can’t afford to let pride or status drive their actions. Without seriously considering the input of others, they run the risk of derailment.
2. Leaders need others
Again this sounds very obvious. But how many leaders have decided that their own analysis and judgement is paramount, without consulting others. What good leaders understand is that personal filters and preferences can give a perspective that isn’t as well developed as it needs to be. Taking into account the perspectives of others can create ground for a far better balance and likelihood of success. There is also the element of mutuality of respect for each other’s expertise. The best answers often lie in collective wisdom, not just that of one individual.
3. Leaders influence the culture
At the risk of sounding too elementary, leaders are a massive influence on the culture of organizations. If leaders seldom listen, they should expect that example to be passed down the line. Eventually it shouldn’t come as a surprise if workers in their organization give up listening because they never feel listened to. Creativity dries up, discretionary effort disappears and motivation sinks.
A leader who learns to listen is a leader who grows in wisdom, respect and effectiveness. He or she is someone who has learned the truth that we all have two ears and one mouth – giving deference to the majority on most occasions.