As leaders many of us think that it’s important to be the center of things all the time. We need to lead any meeting we are in…and be the most vocal person there. We need to have pretty much ALL the ideas. We’re expected to be the smartest person in the room. We can never show weakness of any kind. After all, a leader is strong, powerful, confident, and vocal. And, okay, there’s some truth in some of that. But, that can also lead to us forget what may be one of the most powerful leadership skills – the ability to listen. Becoming a great listener is one of the most overlooked ways to make yourself a better leader.
I bet you probably already know why listening is an important talent to have. Among the most important reasons:
- Others simply have some great ideas to share. New products, new services, and how to improve the business.
- Individuals from outside the business can share new, innovative concepts from other companies and industries.
- We can get a better sense for how our business and our brand look from a different perspective – from customers and those outside our businesses.
- Other opinions can give us a new perspective on issues and help improve our decision-making.
- In a somewhat ironic way you become a better communicator by being a better listener – one who restricts himself or herself to sharing the most important, most relevant ideas.
Cultivate That Skill
I bet you already knew most or all of what I just listed above. For some of us (not many, I think) being more of a listener comes naturally. But for everyone else it’s a skill that definitely can be developed and strengthened. The difficulty isn’t in understanding the importance of listening, it’s actually making ourselves better at it. (You can find some helpful exercise here and here – and there are plenty of others.)
What Works for Me
I have found that some simple, everyday ideas can be VERY valuable and make me a better, more attentive listener. Here are a few that work for me (and can work for you too):
- Before every meeting or phone conversation I take a few minutes to remind myself that I need to listen more. That simple little exercise of telling myself that in this specific meeting I need to be a listener MUCH more than a talker. (I also am trying to work that into everyday conversations; not just business.)
- Also before every discussion I make a point to revisit the goal(s) for that discussion. (And reaching those goals, more often than not, requires me to take in much more information than I give out.)
- I try to be aware of that balance during the conversation. If I find myself speaking way too much, I try to be aware of it and hit the brakes. I force myself to bring that long soliloquy I’m on to an end as quickly as I can – and turn it around by asking the other person a question. Get them talking again – and silence myself.
- Another in-meeting secret I try to use is to actively reflect back on what the other person is saying. A response like “What I hear you saying is…” or asking a specific question in response to what they said makes me focus on actually hearing them. If I can’t do that it probably says that I wasn’t listening enough (and was probably thinking about my own thing to say).
- I debrief with myself after each conversation. I summarize what I just heard. If I have trouble doing that it probably means I spoke too much and didn’t listen nearly enough. I ask myself if I met my goals for the conversation. If I feel that I spoke too much I try to ask myself why. Was it out of nervousness? Was I trying to impress someone in some way? I try to be honest with myself. I really, really want to improve, and I feel that honestly assessing WHY I fall down in that area is important to improving.
So, my advice is to not let yourself get caught up in the old way of thinking about leadership. Leadership doesn’t always mean being the most prominent person in the room. Yes, there’s a time and a place for playing that role. But, I think what you’ll find is that stepping back and becoming a better listener will bring great rewards. Allow yourself that freedom. It will make you a more effective communicator and an improved leader.
Please feel free to reach out and get in touch and let’s explore how I can help you and your business succeed. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas. You can reach me at (713) 907-8429 or BCohen@IDiscoverConsulting.comI hope you are enjoying these blog posts. If so, please help spread the word. Tell others about IDiscover Consulting Group and my blog. Share these posts. Comment on them. I’d really love to hear your ideas!