Chapter 9: The Listening Leader: Why You Need To Listen Louder
Leaders who are great listeners are the ones who are most likely to be perceived as effective leaders. Employees will not care about how much you know until they know how much you care. Those who know you care will work harder and try to exceed your expectations. Here are seven techniques to be a better listener.
Some of the most inspiring leaders I have met are also the most skilled listeners I know.
They look me in the eye. They make me feel like I am the only person that matters to them. They concentrate on my every word. They resist distractions around the room. They make notes and send the signal that what I am saying is noteworthy. They wait for me to finish, and never interrupt unless it is to clarify. They ask powerful questions and dig deep for my ideas and views. They empathize with my views, even if they don’t agree. They make me feel understood. They disagree where appropriate, with respect, to stand up for what they believe. They take action based on our conversation, or they explain why they will not act. Either way, they make me feel that they care about me, and that makes me care about meeting or exceeding their expectations.
It is no coincidence that leaders who are great listeners are the ones who are most likely to be perceived as effective. Incredibly, some leaders I have worked with believed that listening is a soft and unnecessary skill, and a sign of weakness. (Perhaps that is exactly why I was brought in to work with them?) Ironically, though, I have found that listening leaders have even more power. They don’t seem to give in as much as others on deadlines, standards, projects or goals – precisely because they make employees feel as if they understand them. When people feel heard and understood, they also feel important, valued, respected and cared about. When they feel that way, there is a much greater bond between leader and follower, and much more alignment with the goals and objectives of the leader.
Being a great listener gives you enormous presence. I often say that the most charming people in life are those who are more interested in me than I am in them. ‘Go and be charming,’ I exhort my staff.
I have heard time and again how President Bill Clinton was mesmerizingly focused on people. Many who only ever met him once say that they were captivated by him because he gave them his complete attention, his eyes fixed on theirs, and they felt for that brief moment that there was no one in the world more important to him. It had a stunning effect on them.
Whenever I have asked employees what behavioural skills distinguish great leaders from merely competent ones, they always say that the ability to listen empathetically is the most important skill of leadership.