Every individual, every relationship, profession or commitment of any kind needs a living and true connection to thrive. Nowhere else is this more applicable than in leadership. However, few things severes this connection than when leadership and its followers are not able to establish a clear line of understanding, and this clear line of understanding is built around people who understand themselves. Leaders therefore, as a result of their responsibilities, are often demanded to talk and get people to understand them.
Trust me, this is never as easy as it seems. Leaders can find themselves in a precarious position when their communication precludes listening to others. The greatest mistake any leader can make is to trivialize noble art of listening. See, the ability to articulate your views as a leader can become a weakness if not balanced with effective listening capabilities. Of course, there will always be stubborn and vision-less people who are immune to collaboration of any kind save for the one they understand; those are not the guys to listen to really. But even those will have to be listened to at a level to be able to discern their nuisance-value as well as to continuously be in a position to capture their crisis and treacherous potential. Whichever way, listening is needed by leaders for the effective and efficient expression of their visionary commitments.
The credibility of a good leader is trapped right there in his or her ability to make decisions. And good listening will always precede good decisions. Good listening is an active and disciplined activity of probing and challenging the information garnered from others to improve its quality and quantity. Good listening is the key to building a base of knowledge that generates fresh insight and ideas. It is foundational to understanding, and understanding is the pathway to meaning, cooperation, collaboration and advancement. Then, truth be told, a good listening skill does not come naturally without necessary and intentional efforts. I will share what I call the vital three:
- Show Respect: This is demonstrated in the ability to withhold judgement and stay in other people’s shoes to appreciate their world and return to your world to see if where you were before you stayed in their shoes is still worth standing on. This doesn’t mean avoiding tough questions but it does mean a regard for other people’s capacity to make unique contributions. This will ensure a genuine, free and open flow of information and ideas for the common good.
Keep Quiet: Maintain an 80/20 rule in your conversation. Listen for 80% of the time. You can’t really be listening when you are busy talking or formulating what to say next. What most people call listening is just a temporary suspension of speech to formulate their next verbal torrent. Stop seeing conversations as an opportunity to tout your ideas. With patience and practice, you can learn to stifle your impulse to speak and avoid disrespectful interruptions. Succinctly put, it is counter-productive to focus on your own ideas during a conversation. Focus a great deal of your attention on what the other person wants to communicate. Good listeners tend to make better decisions based on better informed judgement and hence make better leaders.
Challenge Assumptions: With care and caution, be willing to challenge and be challenged on long-held and cherished assumptions. Be willing to tolerate ambiguity and open yourself up to new knowledge and possibilities. Avoid a know-it-all attitude especially when your cherished beliefs are being questioned or undermined. To be able to consider the views of others enough to probably change yours right there at the height of your deepest conviction, is not an embarrassment at all, but a show of maturity, sense of mission and strength. This is where most leaders miss it.
I will conclude on a lighter tip by musing that there is absolute truth in the cliché that says God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen more than we speak. LISTENING is GOLDEN! LISTENING is a SKILL! LISTENING can be LEARNT! Please feel free to share your own experiences or your views here. I will love to read them. GO!