I believe that the ability to listen is one of the most important attributes of a leader. However, what is also clear, that it is both under used and under practised by many civic and business leaders. In the age of the new ‘strong man’ leader, it is as if listening is seen as a sign of weakness or indecisiveness.
Whether on an international stage or in local business, there is a temptation for new leaders to talk, rather than listen. In this increasingly ‘shouty’ world, talking shows authority, confidence and certainty.
Yet as a leader how do you navigate this shouty and noisy world? Simply put, active listening.
So, what do I mean by active listening in working context? Listening well means that you are genuinely receptively and bringing your total attention to what the other person is saying or presenting. It does not mean ‘listening to’ for the break in the conversation so that you can repeat your message, rather than engage in a dialogue. Nor does it mean ‘listening for’ where you are seeking confirmation of an existing view.
For leaders, active listening is about recognising the power imbalance between leaders and the led. That means to address that imbalance, there are times when leaders need to say little and listen more. You need to establish the trust and create an environment where persons are prepared to talk, and expect to be listened to.
That listening needs to be deep listening and without judgement. Even if that person has the wrong perception, criticising or blaming you and/or the organisation, listen quietly, without interrupting and without reacting. Remember you are listening for only one reason, to allow the other person[s] to express themselves. Taking the time to really listen like that, will create a positive environment and genuine dialogue.
Why is this important? Leaders need to create the space to hear the uncomfortable truths, the innovative gems that transform, and the challenging questions that test risk. And for that to happen others need to know that they will be listened to and engaged with.
So better to be regarded as a leader who listens too much, as opposed to talks too much.