A Great Leader Is Also A Great Listener

I sometimes think we get the wrong idea about what it means to be a leader. The images we conjure up in our minds are of outspoken revolutionaries cajoling crowds into rebellion or courageous generous with booming voices rallying troops for battle. The leader is typically outspoken, likes to be the center of attention, and never admits to being wrong. The leader is never a work-in-progress; rather, he or she is the embodiment of perfection–the ideal for which we all strive.

We may think of this sort of leader when we imagine leadership in our minds but, in reality, none of us wants to be led by this kind of leader. We don’t want to be led by someone who is so high above us and outside of our realm of experience. We find it intimidating and even pretentious. No, we prefer a leader who is more down to our level–someone we can relate to. We want someone who understands our situations and can empathize with our experiences. What kind of leader do we want to follow? In short, we want to follow a leader who listens…

Listening, I’ve come to believe, is the most under-appreciated skill of all. We often think of a leader as being a good communicator, but what we usually mean is a “good speaker.” But listening is an even more important part of communication than speaking. Most people want to talk and, if you can be the one who listens, you’ll gain their respect very quickly. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.” Listening is the soul of communication.

But listening isn’t only about communication. You listen, not just with your ears, but with your life. When I say “listening,” I mean being open to information. It means recognizing when you’re wrong about something, fixing it, and moving on. It means noticing a new trend in the marketplace, a new application of technology, or a new problem in the relationship dynamic of your team. Listening is about openness. It’s about being flexible and responsive to your environment rather than bumbling through it and persistently headstrong fashion. Listening is the foundation for growth.

People don’t want to follow a leader who is perfect, because they know that no such leader exists. However, people do want to follow a leader who is constantly improving. And, in order to grow, you have to approach your work and your life with your ears open. Can you imagine how people on your team would respond if you paid more attention to them and started listening even more than you do now? How much more appreciated might they feel? How much more respect might they have for you? What new ideas might come to the surface?

The potential benefits from becoming a better listener are endless. So, now’s the best time to start. Go find someone and listen to what they have to say. Then sit back and watch as people start to follow you as their leader.

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