Leading by Listening: How to improve your listening skills as a leader
The Importance of Active Listening in Leadership
Leading by listening means to actively listen to the needs of your employees and act. It’s about using your skills as a leader to make sure that you are contributing towards making their job easier and not adding more work to it.
Leading by listening will ensure that you are efficient in what you do and improve the productivity of your team. With this skill, you can establish meaningful relationships with others and provide them with much-needed support.
What Is Listening?
Listening is a skill that we often don’t think about until we’re trying to communicate effectively and find it difficult to get our point across. Listening allows us to phrase our thoughts in such a way that makes sense and shows understanding of others.
So, what is listening?
Listening goes far beyond simply hearing what someone else is saying and responding accordingly. True listening requires conscious engagement and an understanding that confusion and misinterpretation can happen very easily when you don't 'tune in' and apply your active listening skills. This requires leaders to understand not just the words, but the inference; knowing that each person will bring with them to a conversation their own subjective perceptions, interpreted reality and assumptions based on their particular life experiences and the data available to them.
Listening skills are critical when it comes to achieving cultural understanding and empathy to better integrate into society and be more inclusive towards diverse groups of people.
Being Good at Listening Helps Lead People Towards Their Goals
It is no longer enough for leaders to only give speeches and talk about the issues. Good leaders are good listeners. They create an atmosphere of safety in which people feel comfortable sharing their feedback, concerns, and ideas. To do this, they must know how to actively listen to understand what people need and how to best facilitate positive experiences.
Develop a Listening Mindset
Listening is not just about hearing the surface intention, it’s taking in the emotions that come with the words, and recognising the influence behind the words. When you listen to someone, you acknowledge what they are saying is important by asking questions or agreeing with them.
Good leaders are good listeners, and it all starts with a listening mindset. It’s not enough to say you listen. It’s crucial to understand the importance of listening in leadership and then consciously practice active listening.
How to Improve Listening Skills as a Leader
With a listening mindset, a leader can begin to improve their listening skills. Here are 7 listening techniques that will help leaders develop their listening skills:
- Maintain eye contact with the speaker
- Don’t be judgmental when listening
- Listen for the unspoken things
- Don’t interrupt
- Ask clarifying questions
- Visualise what the speaker is saying
- Empathise with the speaker
Eye contact is the most crucial factor in establishing a human connection. You can get more of this essential connection by making sure to always maintain eye contact with the speaker.
We all make judgments. It’s not something we can avoid. Leaders should be aware of their biases and be careful about what they say and do, to make sure that their judgments don’t affect others negatively. When listening, pause first to check your own judgements and preconceptions before responding.
One way to improve your listening skills is to focus on the unspoken things. These are the thoughts that people don’t express verbally but will often convey through body language or other non-verbal cues.
Poor listeners often interrupt people in conversation, but this can make people feel uncomfortable and not engaged with the conversation. Instead, listening leaders should wait for a pause in the conversation, before interjecting or answering questions.
Leaders who listen always ask questions to improve their understanding and enable people to feel comfortable discussing what is needed. This also demonstrates concern and provides an opportunity to empathise.
When trying to understand what the speaker is saying, use listening skills to visualise what the speaker is talking about. This can help the leader understand meaning and context, and produce interesting questions that will make the speaker elaborate on what they just said.
Great leaders are good listeners, they focus on what is being said, and use contextual meaning to understand how the speaker feels. This helps the leader see things from the speaker’s point of view, communicate more effectively, build better relationships, and solve problems.
Is your organisation a listening organisation?
Listening helps you build relationships and make connections with people. It also helps you understand what your team members want from their work and how they want to contribute to the greater goal of the company. If you learn how to listen well, you will be able to lead people towards their goals and help them succeed in life.
Leadership listening skills can make or break your career as a leader. But it is not enough for one person in an organisation to learn listening as a leadership skill. Your organisation must take ownership of it as one of its core competencies.
Are your leaders equipped to lead effectively? To learn how our Leadership Circle™ Impact Programme delivers the skills your organisation needs to deliver impactful leadership, click here.