Monday, February 8, 2016

Great Leaders are Great Listeners

As you move up within a company, it is pretty easy to get caught up giving voice to your own opinions. After all, they gave you leadership responsibility because you know 'stuff'. Important stuff. Stuff about how to get other stuff done.  Stuff that will help the company be more successful.  It's only right to share that knowledge with others.

However, getting caught up in sharing what we know is problematic on two key fronts.  First, it does not provide an opportunity for our people to share what they know, thereby stunting their growth and secondly, it limits us to what we know already, thereby stunting our own.

To be a successful and effective leader, it is important to realize that you can't possibly know everything, or be skilled in everything. Your role is to lead, manage and direct others who do have the knowledge and skills that you need. Therefore, a key skill for a leader to master is the ability to Listen to others.

Just 'Hearing' someone isn't enough.  Hearing refers to the sounds that someone is making, the words they are sharing.  Listening however requires you to pay attention not just to what is being shared but to the nuance of how it's being told.  Truly listening allows you to take in the subtext of the message. Effective listening means that you understand not just what the person said, but how they felt about what they shared.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.  Bryan M. McGill
Richard Branson has frequently attributed Listening as one of his greatest success secrets. However, truly listening isn't easy, it is work. It requires a level of focus, engagement and concentration that merely hearing what is being said does not.  If you find that you are consciously aware of what you want to say in reply or rebuttal to what someone is saying, then you are not fully listening to them. You are not listening, you are waiting to speak.

Use the following tips to help you strengthen your Listening skills...

  1. Give your undivided attention.  If you are focused elsewhere then you truly aren't listening. A person is sharing far more with you than just what their words are telling you.  If you are not paying attention to their delivery then you are missing a significant portion of what they are telling you - both consciously and unconsciously
  2. Maintain eye contact.  Looking at a person when they are speaking to you demonstrates interest and respect.  It also allows you to observe their non-verbal communication which is critical in understanding everything that is being shared.
  3. Be mindful of your body language.  Just as you can pick up significant cues and information from someone`s delivery so too are they picking up messages from yours.  You want to appear open and accepting of their opinions which requires that your body language appear open and non-judgemental.  No deep sighs, eye rolls and turning away in your seat!
  4. Don`t interject or interrupt.  Allow them to give full voice to their thoughts and opinions. Interrupting sends the message that you feel what you have to share is more important, that you`re done listening, that you`re not interested in what they have to say.
  5. Ask questions to clarify - not to challenge. Your questions should be used to help enhance your understanding of their message and position, not to highlight what you view as deficiencies.
  6. Verify what you`ve heard.  Summarize what you've heard to ensure that you have not misinterpreted what they've shared.  Many arguments have arisen simply because someone misinterpreted what was being shared, which could have been avoided had they verified their understanding first.
  7. Encourage new thoughts. You are seeking the thoughts and opinions of others for multiple reasons, one of which should be to test and expand your understanding of the situation. You must therefore be open to listening to new approaches and solutions. Don`t shut the sharing down simply because you don`t like what you are hearing or don't agree with what is being proposed.  Being open to new ideas means inviting them in.
At it`s most basic, communication is broken down into two components; speaking and listening. Most people put their effort and focus into the speaking side of the equation, failing to recognise the effort and skill that is required to truly listen effectively to others.  Great leaders though don`t. They know how important it is to listen to those they want to follow them.  They know how much they can learn and understand about their followers if they simply listen. 

The hopes, dreams, values and motivations of people are out there waiting for someone to listen. What are your people saying?  Are you listening?

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