Listening: A Vital (Yet Often Overlooked) Leadership Skill

Did you ever walk into a meeting and wonder who’s the best leader here? Probably it’s not the person doing the most talking – but doing the most listening.

Great leaders are great listeners.

Today’s leader will need to be a more active listener who’s constantly learning and adapting to change.

“Leadership is mostly about listening,” says Jessanne Collins, editor-in-chief of mental floss magazine. “You can’t create a team that thrives if you can’t respond to what each member needs.”

The best leaders are equally good at asking the right questions and listening, according to research on what defines a great leader. They listen carefully to what is being said and not said.

Can We Not Talk? Yes, When….

“As a leader, you need to have a strong voice and you need to know when it’s time to listen,” says Amy Jen Su, co-owner of Paravis Partners, an executive training and coaching firm. To develop this underutilized skill that is key to successful leadership:

Make it a priority. “You have to put listening at the top of your list and acknowledge it’s a skill that’s important in your role as a leader,” says Christine Riordan, leadership coach and president of Adelphi University. Recognize that your team and your colleagues are equally smart and have something of value to offer.

Know yourself. “There are personality traits that lend themselves to more empathetic listening,” says Christine. Some of us were taught to be listeners, while others were taught it was weak to listen. Recognize this first. If you tend to interrupt others, Amy Jen Su, an executive coach, offers a technique to help break this bad habit: Every time you want to talk, wait for the other person to pass you an imaginary “listening stick.” Practice this at home with a loved one, she says.

Listen alone (no phone). When you’re distracted during a conversation, you risk sending a message that the speaker and their message are unimportant. And you cannot pick up on body language, facial expressions and natural behavior if you’re looking  down at your phone.

Hear what’s not being said.  People communicate in a myriad of ways and many are nonverbal. People might be saying one thing but their body language is saying something else. Don’t miss these cues.

Be open to an earful. Listen to those that challenge you. Many people from all walks of life can add value to your world if you’re willing to listen. Wisdom can come from just about anyone, but only if you are open to different perspectives.

Mastering the art of listening may just be what takes your leadership ability to the next level, putting you in line for your next career move. Are you listening?