It can be easy for a leader to be fooled into believing that they are the smartest person in the room and that their answers, opinions, ideas and decisions are the only ones that need to be expressed. That thinking can lead down a path where no leader should be. Instead, consider that the ability to lead at your best requires you to stop talking and listen to others and that you need to do that more than you ever imagined you would.
In case you need to be reminded of the importance of listening, recall a time when you weren’t listened to (it happens to all of us at some time). You had a point to make, and the person you wanted to make it to was preoccupied, or interrupted you with their point. That didn’t feel too good, did it? So, you gave up, you felt dismissed, and if it happened continually, you got mad and might have stopped speaking up. That likely isn’t what you want those who support you to do.
Now recall a time you felt that you were truly listened to (which unfortunately might happen less often than the opposite). It felt good, even if the person listening didn’t agree with you. You made your point, and you felt respected for it. The person listening to you was focused on you, didn’t interrupt, and allowed you to be heard. You continued to speak up because you felt included, and know you were heard.
A rare experience, feeling listened to also comes with some advantages to the listener (you!):
They listen back. When it comes time for you to say what’s on your mind after listening to others, if you had been focused on the person(s) speaking and what they have to say first, they will also listen to you when it’s your turn to talk. Amazing.
They will speak up. It’s important for you to have others feel comfortable giving you feedback and advice that will keep you out of hot water. Your focused presence as you listen to someone will be returned to you when people want to give you feedback. Being blindsided when you weren’t aware of something to can have negative consequences for you.
You become smarter. Because you are allowing yourself to really listen and be drawn into the world of the other person, you’ll learn a lot about them. Likewise, you’ll learn a lot of other things that might be very important to your ability to be successful in your leadership.
They’ll become more civil and respectful. When you model listening, you also model civility and respect. It may not mean you agree with what you hear, but it does mean that the person you are listening to feels respected in their ideas and opinions. And because you are a model for civility and respect, they’ll pay that forward to others in your organization.
The single most important thing you can change in your leadership for the better is to listen more. The impact for you and your ability to successfully lead others can’t be underestimated.
More From Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive/leadership coach whose work spans decades of making a difference in the lives of hundreds of executives, leaders and teams in Fortune 500, mid- and small- sized business, governments and nonprofits. She focuses on facilitating individuals and teams from first-line supervisor to the C-suite to create, develop, and influence the relationships that can make them extraordinary.