Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”–Bernard Baruch

A good leader is a great listener and listening is THE most important skill for leaders to master. It is critical for effective communication and strong leadership.  It is a powerful collaboration and team building tool because it makes everyone feel that their opinions, suggestions and perspectives are heard, understood and appreciated.

Don’t mistake ‘hearing’ for ‘listening’, as listening is so much more that simply hearing what someone has to say.  Active, genuine ‘listening’ demands that you give your full attention to the other person, it means setting aside whatever else you have on your mind in that moment and registering their non-verbal language in addition to their words. In our fast-paced working environments, that’s actually an incredibly difficult thing to do, to completely close down thoughts of whatever is coming up next, to ignore our own needs and give your undivided attention to another person. 

When we engage in communication with others we are actually hearing 2 voices, the voice of the person we are listening to and the voice we hear in our own heads.  It’s not an easy task to shut off that voice in our head and fully focus on the other person. Active listening is an art, a skill that must be learnt, honed and mastered over time, and accomplishing such a skill takes a high level of self-awareness and control on the part of the leader.

Being a leader is a multi-faceted role rife with obstacles and it’s not always smooth running at the top, sometimes the pressure can wear you down and you find yourself with less time to pay attention to others. But when you are a leader, and you are not listening to the voices of those around you, you are failing. Now more than ever, you need to pay attention to your team and focus on not only listening to them but also addressing their issues right away.

Listening is about appreciating others, it is about making others feel valued, and it is one of the most effective ways to build trust. So, be more acutely aware of what team are saying and act upon the feedback you receive in a timely and satisfactory manner.

Some of the key benefits of listening for leaders are:

  • Team members feel valued, appreciated and empowered to perform at their best
  • Increased morale, productivity and engagement
  • Loyal customers and dedicated employees
  • Increased trust, mutual respect and a harmonious working environment
  • Higher employee retention
  • Stronger working relationships and improved team work
  • Improved decision-making
  • Higher levels of innovation and creativity
  • Better problem solving and conflict management

As a leader, you are uniquely positioned to act upon the grievances and ideas of your team, you have a responsibility to show that you care. When there is an issue and you cannot pinpoint the cause of the problem, put your ears to the ground and listen. When you pay attention to people, you discover all the missing pieces of the puzzle. When you lend your ears to people – and really listen, you make it easier for them to communicate with you. You make it easier for people to make valuable contributions that generate better results.

The consequences of not listening are:

  • You risk your team becoming disengaged
  • You risk missing out on the discovery of great ideas and contributions
  • You fail to put talent to best use
  • You lose the respect and trust of your team
  • You struggle to effectuate change
  • You struggle to make good decisions
  • Productivity and morale diminish
  • You’ll lose top talent and jeapardise your own and the organisations reputation

‘Failing to listen to employees severely damages leadership integrity if a culture of ‘us and them’ is left to grow’  Acas.   So, ask yourself, “What one action will I take today to become a better listener?” and then notice what happens.

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