How would you say your listening skills are? Do you really listen to your team and take note of what they say? More importantly, do you know what to listen out for in what they don’t say. Being an empathetic and active listener is a key ingredient to being a good leader. Not only does it show your team you care about what they say, but that you are considerate with your time and theirs. This blog post explores why listening is your biggest asset as a leader.
Great leaders listen more than they talk
Most of us have a story of a great leader and one that’s not so great. Often, the commonality in the leaders that didn’t quite hit the mark involves the inability to really listen. There are a lot of leaders out there that are massive fans of their own voices, their own opinions and their own methods.
But the truly great leaders are the ones that elevate all this in others
Empathy, vulnerability and authenticity are extremely valuable traits in a leader. By revealing these to the people you manage, even online, can ensure you are more approachable, trusted and supported. Having a true understanding of people’s struggles and challenges and really hearing how factors are affecting their lives, can give leaders an incredible insight and allows powerful shift and change when needed. In turn, the team will have felt really understood and listened to which creates incredible loyalty.
How humility and vulnerability builds trust
In order to build trust it’s a two-way relationship and leaders needs to lead by doing and not telling. Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly says that “vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage”. She talks in depth about the practice of wholehearted leadership and building human connections.
To sit alongside someone who is struggling and listen to them without judgement, recognise emotion and feel with them is open, honest and empathetic. The person who projects their own feelings, is judgemental. They feel for someone by being sympathetic and actively driving disconnection.
Connecting with someone and listening is one of the most powerful and honest acts of building trust. For someone to open up to you, as a leader you are privileged as an employee is putting their trust in you.
Being a leader in the past year has taken on a different meaning. Leaders are often leading from a square on a computer where normal cues such as body language aren’t seen. This has heightened the expectation that leaders need to step up, to notice and to be more in tune with their teams than ever before. You have to work harder online to ensure that listening is still your biggest asset as a leader.
Under lockdown conditions, people are reacting very differently. The extroverts may be struggling somewhat and the introverts, with the right encouragement, are thriving. As all the layers of physically ‘being’ in the office have been peeled away, this has really suited some people. As a leader, you have to be aware of these varying types of behaviours, why they are presenting themselves and what you can do to support. This is why good leaders need to ensure that each person gets a chance to talk. They need to create space so that people aren’t interrupted, which in turn leads to disengagement, and that people are encouraged to speak and share. Often the quiet, more introverted of people have the best things to say.
The power of listening
There is a lot to talk about on the power of listening. I love these stats from Forbes which really hit home its impact. Note especially the last point:
- 85% of what we know we have learned through listening
- Humans generally listen at a 25% comprehension rate
- In a typical business day, we spend 45% of our time listening, 30% of our time talking, 16% reading and 9% writing
- Less than 2% of all professionals have had formal education or learning to understand and improve listening skills and techniques
Learning how to listen
Active listening and understanding more than what is just being said to you during an appraisal or one-to-one is really important for someone to feel valued and listened to. It’s a skill but one which doesn’t always come easily – there has to be a human connection. You have to deeply care.
To develop this, I would recommend exploring the approaches developed by educator, author and businessman Stephen Covey. He talks of the need to “seek first to understand, then to be understood” in his fifth habit of the popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The listening continuum which he later discusses, develops listening skills. These progress at their best to empathetic listening. It takes practice to develop this skill and use it naturally but it’s a vital skill for a good leader and one worth working on.
So you listened, now what?
As the saying goes, the devil is in the detail, and this is so true when you are a leader. By actively encouraging your team to engage, to share opinions and to make sure they are listened to is fantastic. But it’s what you do with that information that is being relayed that is really a sign of greatness. This is why listening is your biggest asset as a leader, you are seriously wielding a lot of knowledge!
Good leaders will follow up on this conversation, reference the points made, ask questions, make plans and ensure that it is crystal clear that person was understood. This can shape new strategies, new ideas and ways of working that add to the greater good of the organisation. Which comes to my next point – a good leader is not afraid of change. They are open to a different style to theirs or a different way of their team expressing themselves. If we were all the same, life and business would be very dull indeed.