“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” —Larry King
One of the most important leadership skills, that outstanding leaders have mastered, is the ability to listen. Genuine listening is one of the key ways you can show your strength as a leader; it shows confidence and establishes trust. As Larry King said in the quote above, the only way you are going to learn anything is by listening. Sounds simple enough, but so few people listen like a leader. When you listen like a leader, you listen with the intent to gain true understanding, you show respect to others, you make real connections, and you build mutual trust.
Leonardo da Vinci believed, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” Outstanding leaders are insatiably curios; they ask open-ended questions that challenge the status quos and help others to reframe problems and ideas. In order to gain a true understanding you must leave your own agenda at the door and learn to recognize your biases so that you are open to really understanding what others have to say. You must encourage people to not only share their thoughts, but to dig deeper into what lies beneath those thoughts. Recognize that everyone has something valuable to contribute and take the opportunity to reach across the organization, listening like a leader with the intent to gain understanding.
Bryant H. McGill tells us, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Outstanding leaders understand that it’s not all about them. Listening to others is the ultimate sign of respect and it shows you care. It demonstrates how much you value and respect the experience and knowledge of others when you ask for their input. People want to be consulted and know that they’ve been heard and their ideas are taken under serious consideration. Show that you respect their opinions and are confident enough to welcome others to challenge, question, and disagree with you. Admit when you are wrong or don’t have the answer. Ask the questions that will have a real impact and then listen like a leader to what others have to offer.
Rollo May said, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.” An outstanding leader looks for connections and develops personal relationships by really listening to others. You let them know you care about what they think and about their ideas when you truly listen. You must create a safe place for people to open up and share knowledge, ideas, and opinions. Listening like a leader allows you to find the connections that transform relationships and teams.
Stephen Covey explained, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Outstanding leaders build trust by proving they are good listeners. Leadership is all about influence and if you want to have an influence, others have to know they have been heard. Listening shows that you value the thoughts of others, that you are worthy of their trust, and encourages them to continue to communicate. Listen like a leader and develop the trusting relationships that allow you to influence others.
How to Do It
So, how do you listen like a leader? You listen without having an answer or response already in mind; don’t just listen to confirm what you already think you know. Let others know that you hear them and that you care about what they have to share. You ask questions and follow up. You put yourself in their shoes so that you can empathize with their point of view. You limit distractions and give your undivided attention. You not only pay attention to what is being said and how they say it, but also to what is not being said. You talk less and listen more to gain understanding, show respect, uncover and develop connections, and build trust. Then, and only then, will you be listening like a leader.
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