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Are You Listening Like a Leader?

by | Jul 19, 2013

We each bring a unique set of experiences, perceptions, memories, and bits of advice we’ve collected along the way to our leadership journey. This tapestry of ideas and assumptions is what makes us unique and it’s what makes up the breadth of our expertise. Leaders know a lot. But it’s our job to use that expertise in the most effective way. How do we ensure we put our mastery to work in the right way and make the best decisions in the moment? Lead with listening. 

Listening is one of the most powerful and efficient things a leader can master. But it can be hard. Many leaders think, “If I’m listening, I’m not doing anything.” Listening is made even more difficult in today’s interruption age; we’re so used to constant stimuli, it’s easy for our mind to start wandering, our foot to start tapping restlessly. We can begin to tune out. But it’s important to stay engaged.

Many leaders think, “If I’m listening, I’m not doing anything.”

In every interaction, or TouchPoint, listening with both our heads and our hearts is crucial to gaining a complete understanding of the issue. Without this full understanding, we can easily waste everyone’s time by solving the wrong problem or merely addressing a symptom, not the root cause. A challenge for many leaders, since they do know so much, is that they only listen briefly before jumping in with a “fix” “ often times before they fully understand the matter at hand. This can waste a chance to get it right the first time and squander an opportunity to learn from others who know more about the issue.

To listen effectively, practice these three ways of Listening Like a Leader:

  1. Listen with your head for the evidence:

    Get all the facts, figures and background to the situation before interjecting. Practice waiting to jump in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that will provide even more information.

  2. Listen with your heart for the energy:

    How are the other people in the conversation behaving? Pay careful attention. Is the energy green: optimistic, alert, curious, and confident.  Is the energy yellow: questioning, hesitant, or uncertain. Or is the energy red: angry, withdrawn, avoiding eye contact, shutting down. Your employees will thank you for paying attention. Employees are usually tuned into their bosses’ moods but the opposite is very rare. Be the exception.

  3.  Listen exponentially to all the other voices that touch the issue:

    Every conversation you have has been influenced by many prior interactions. To really get an accurate understanding of the issue, it’s important to think about all the stakeholders. Listen for all the voices that touch the issue, even those that are not present. With this practice, an even fuller picture will emerge.

As you practice Leading with Listening you will be amazed how much you can learn in such a short time when you just let people speak. It’s helpful to remember this tip: Be so exquisitely alert to their words that when they are finished, you can summarize what you heard in a few succinct sentences. When you’re done, ask “Did I get that right?”  Employees will feel valued that you listened to them, you’ll make better, faster decisions, and you send the message “we’re in this together.”

We want to hear from you: How do you practice Leading with Listening? Is there a time where careful listening made all the difference?

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

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