At some point when I coach executives and managers we arrive at a discussion of the most important characteristics of a good leader. You can find dozens of surveys pointing out the Top Ten characteristics. Vision, honesty, integrity, communication skills, resilience, passion are often cited among others, but you never see one survey match another. I don’t argue against any of the survey results, because all the characteristics that are mentioned are admirable. What I find most interesting though is that when I talk with colleagues and clients about a boss they admire, the response I often hear is, “she listens,” or “he’s a good listener.” If you dig deeper, many of the other characteristics are probably there, but the boss’s propensity to listen is most visible.
Listening may seem to be a simple topic, but I maintain it’s the most over-looked opportunity for any leader to promote a positive work environment. A boss or colleague can have as many of the other often-mentioned characteristics, but if they have a foundation of good listening habits, the other characteristics become more magnified. So, let’s take a look at the power of listening.
On the 20th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I watched a news special that had several of his cabinet members and close associates at the table. Each was asked what they remembered most about JFK. Several talked about his energy and charisma and other visible traits. When they got to Pierre Salinger, the former president’s press secretary, he shared that JFK was a phenomenal listener. He would sit at a meeting and focus on everyone’s comments and ask you questions so intently that he would squeeze out all of your energy. As a result, you felt so empowered that one of the most powerful leaders in the world felt you had something important to say. Salinger said for him this was exhilarating. I would imagine for any of us that this would be a truly up-lifting and remarkable experience.
And this is how you want your team to feel. You want them to believe their thoughts are very important to you and that you need their calculated inputs. And the best part about listening, it is easy for every leader to develop listening skills.
Start with eliminating distractions. By now you have seen the science that proves you cannot multi-task effectively. In other words, when someone wants to speak with you, you need to put down the phone, turn away from the computer screen or put aside whatever you are reading. Give the person who wants to share their thoughts your undivided attention. If you are in a noisy environment, like the shop floor, find a quiet place or agree on a time to chat in quieter environment.
Look them in the eye. Show them that they are important to you. Motivate them.
Work hard to eliminate your filters. You may have some negative history with the person, you still can gain some important insights. Be fascinated. Ask questions. Be an active listener. Whether at work or social occasion, there will always be opportunities to find a diamond in the coal pile if you work to understand what the person has to say. All of this requires patience. If you are proud to say that you don’t have time to be patient, then you may be missing out on opportunity.
And most importantly, you should have an understanding of the challenges of interacting effectively with different personalities. Research shows that your leadership style matches 25 percent of the population. You need to be aware of how your style matches up with the other 75 percent of those you interact with if you are to be an effective communicator. Leaders need to know themselves and their team members.
Listening is powerful, but only if you spend the time to do it right.
Ron works with emerging leaders, execs, entrepreneurs and managers who want to sharpen their leadership skills and inspire their teams to achieve a level of performance beyond their imagination. He does this by providing high-impact, energizing programs that give the participants an opportunity to learn and practice the guiding principles of leadership that are crucial to establishing a success-oriented environment. You already know a lot about leadership, Ron helps you to amp it up and put it all together so that you use your abilities in a disciplined fashion every day to achieve results! His course participants are unanimous in their feedback, "I wish I had attended earlier in my career." He has also brought his Leadership Excellence Course to the Battleship North Carolina, where participants learn in a most inspiring environment how to motivate people, the power of integrity, the reasons for good feedback and many other defining leadership principles that help leaders and teams get to the next level and achieve results. You can check out some other course opportunities at AcademyLeadership.com. Look in the Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Wilmington areas.
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