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Are You a Listening Leader?

There has been much written on this topic. My intention today is not to repeat everything that’s already been said. Rather I’m going to focus on a few things that keep leaders from really hearing what’s being said, and tips for avoiding them. Here are 4 barriers to listening that I regularly see from leaders:

  1. Multitasking

  2. Formulating Your Response

  3. Your Need to be Heard

  4. Not Being Mentally Prepared


“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
~ M. Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Traveled”

Do you keep one eye on your inbox while meeting with your staff? Do you have your computer open during staff meetings so that you can “take notes” and “make quick references”? Is your phone sitting in view so you can check every alert that comes up? These are all forms of multitasking, and also signs that you are not committed to listening.

Turning off or putting away all distractions is key to giving someone your full attention. If showing your team respect is important to you, this is a simple gesture that will pay huge dividends. There isn’t much that is more important than making your team feel valued and heard.

Formulating Your Response

Leaders often believe that they are expected to have a super speedy response to everything someone says to them. They think that this shows their competency. The reality is that in order to have that quick response you have to stop listening at some point in order to think about what you’re going to say. When you do that, you may be missing the most important part of what the other person is trying to communicate.

Commit to listening – all the way to the end. When the speaker stops talking, then you can start thinking about your response. What often happens while you are processing is that the speaker ends up saying even more about the topic, possibly revealing things you would otherwise never hear about. If this feels awkward, let your team know that you are practicing your listening skills, and listening all the way to the end is something you are working on.

Your Need to be Heard

We all have this. We want our ideas to be heard and embraced. However, leaders need to have a hyper-awareness that everything they say is viewed as a directive by subordinates. If a staff is telling you about their ideas on how to handle a project and you interrupt to tell them your thoughts, the staff is going to assume that you don’t care about their ideas and that they need to do it the way you said. Either way the project will probably get done, but one way the staff will feel great about their contribution, and the other they will lack motivation.

When listening to staff ideas leaders need to critically evaluate the times they choose to interject their thoughts. You need to be selective and be sure of the purpose. Is it simply because you want to be heard? Is it crucial to ensure that work is going to be completed as needed? Leaders who insist on speaking more than listen will eventually have staff with nothing to say.

You’re Not Mentally Prepared

If being a Listening Leader is important to you (and I hope it is!), mental preparation can help significantly. Leading a business or nonprofit is very demanding. Leaders are often running from one meeting to another, then another, and another. When going into a conversation, take 1 or 2 minutes to think about the purpose. Ask yourself what you need to learn during the meeting. If there are key messages you need to deliver, consider how best to do that so you can maintain a listening climate. Taking a few moments to prepare will help you transition and will center your mind on the person or topic at hand.

Another piece of being mentally prepared is listening beyond the words. To do this you need to listen with your ears, but also with your eyes and your heart. True listening involves not just hearing what is said, but also capturing the meaning and emotion behind the words. When observing these things, it’s a good practice to state what you are hearing (and seeing and feeling) back to the person. For example, “You’re frustrated because you feel like you’re pulling more of the load than your peers.” This helps ensure that you are interpreting the situation correctly, and it often leads to the person saying a whole lot more about the topic.

Bonus Tip! 

Bring a notepad into every conversation. If your mind is being drawn to something else, ask for a short pause in the conversation so you can jot down your thoughts. This will ensure you won’t lose the idea, and it will allow you to return your focus to listening.

If you would like help in developing your listening skills or creating a listening culture, I would love to help! Email me at Happy listening!

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