This post is a natural follow-up to my previous one, “Lesson Learned: Guide, but don’t force.” In hindsight, I wish I had combined them. Great leaders are skilled listeners; they listen actively, with intent and focus on the speaker. They maintain eye contact, provide verbal and body-language feedback, and make the speaker feel like the most important person in the room (literally or figuratively). Their primary attention is on processing the speaker’s communication, rather than formulating their own response.
It’s easy to confuse talking with leading because talking feels like leading. It gives you a sense of importance and feeds your ego. However, talking alone does not equate to effective leadership. When you talk, you may be expressing your own feelings, dictating what you want others to accomplish, and sometimes even how they should do it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that others understand, are inspired, or will follow. Talking is a valuable communication tool, but engaging in dialogue without first actively listening is like swinging a hammer without understanding the nail. Where is it located? Is it big or small? What are the consequences of missing? Might it actually be a screw?
Listening is a simple yet powerful tool for maximizing the potential of your team members, making them feel valued, and ensuring their engagement. Great leaders seek first to understand. They actively listen, absorbing the knowledge and insights of their talented team members, and then make informed decisions and communicate them effectively. They recognize that giving everyone a chance to speak leads to better engagement. They practice patience and avoid interrupting. They also take the time to ensure they have buy-in from their teams. They strive for agreement and alignment whenever possible, and for disagreement with commitment when necessary. Being an effective listener also helps cultivate the habit of guiding rather than forcing.