If you intend to lead, you must be a good listener. According to a 2018 Harvard Business Review article, "Leaders who listen well are perceived as individuals who generate more trust, instill greater job satisfaction, and increase their team's creativity." Therefore in order to become better leaders we must learn how to listen and listen well. At Harvest Business Leadership and Development, we have broken down how to do this, with four core habits.
If You Want to Lead, You’ve Got to Use Your Ears.
That truth has been reinforced countless times throughout my leadership career. In fact, as a young leader, my first responsibility was to explain my ideas and persuade others to support them. I was less interested in hearing feedback or knowing what others thought. As a result, I've had my fair share of leadership "misses"—initiatives, ideas, or strategies that simply didn't resonate with those I led.
It took me a while to recognize the cost of not listening – in fact, one day, I sat down and compiled a list of the ways in which not listening was affecting my leadership:
Few people were open to communicating with me
I led with assumptions
My ideas were the only ones being put into action
I was the only one taking responsibility for anything
My team was disengaged
All of these are horrible situations for a leader to be in, especially when they are self-inflicted wounds. As I've grown as a better listener, I've discovered that those who follow leaders are constantly asking three questions:
1. Do you like me?
2. Can I put my trust in you?
3. Can you help me?
Leaders cannot provide accurate answers if they are not listening for them.
Four Core Habits
Here are four core habits broken down how to become a more effective listener and leader.
Core Habit #1 Listen Carefully.
Listening well begins with being intentional, whether in one-on-one or group gatherings. I established a simple method to hold myself responsible to my goal to listen well: whenever I met with someone, I would take notes on a legal pad. I would put a giant block "L" at the top of the page that stood for listen. During those discussions, I would periodically peek at that L as a reminder to stop talking and listen to what the other person or persons were saying. Remember, listening is an art. Choosing what to listen to and then listening intentionally is everything.
Core Habit #2 Stop Interrupting
Conversations with others were a great source of inspiration for me as a young leader. When that happened, I often found myself so eager to talk about my brilliant new idea that I stopped paying attention to what the other person was saying and instead waited eagerly for my turn to speak. Sometimes I would interrupt if I didn't think there was a good opportunity to do so naturally.
Consider this: when you interrupt someone, you're essentially stating, "What I want to say is more important than what you want to say." Devaluing or invalidating the ideas of others because you were too busy interrupting the train of thought with your own is a certain way to drive a wedge between you and the other person. You can't afford mistakes like that as a leader. You need to stop interrupting.
Core Habit #3 Start asking questions.
Do you not feel like the other person is truly interested in what you have to say when they ask you thoughtful questions? Inquiries encourage more detailed explanations, expanded discussions, and new discoveries. They are also an open invitation to communicate with the other person. Good listeners ask follow-up questions because they are genuinely interested in the speaker and the topic at hand. Here's a leadership lesson I learned the hard way: following my ears has never gotten me in trouble. Asking questions has helped me become a more attentive listener. As a coach, this is a concept I must constantly repeat to myself. “Can I stay curious a little longer and rush to solutions or judgment a little bit slower?”. This is known as being more coach-like.
Core Habit #4 Invite people to hold you accountable for listening.
The final step I took to improve my listening skills was to ask others to tell me anytime they felt I wasn't listening to them. What motivated me to take that step? Because not listening was a blind spot for me, and I needed someone to point it out to me. When someone pointed out that I wasn't listening, I apologized, closed my lips, and focused on listening. Nothing beats accountability for keeping you honest!
One of the quickest and most efficient ways to connect with others is to listen well. The people you lead are starving for connection with you. When your staff members feel heard and understood, it creates a connection that strengthens the entire team and reinforces that positive behavior across the organization.
Arthur M. May AIA Assoc. President / CEO
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