Why the Best Leaders Are Listeners and How to Become One

Listening with attention

Why the Best Leaders Are Listeners and How to Become One

There are many vital things leaders must do to improve the performance of their teams in 2020. One of them, without question, is psychological safety.

Google’s Abeer Dubey, director of people analytics and Julia Rozovsky, a people analytics manager, led a two-year study called Project Aristotle, which evaluated 180 Google teams, conducted 200-plus interviews, and analyzed more than 250 different team attributes. Rozovsky outlined the five key characteristics of enhanced teams, and one of the most important was psychological safety.

There are many ways for you to create psychological safety, but one of the best ways is to be an effective listener. Of all of the great leaders I have studied, I have yet to find one who isn’t an effective listener. A great example of this is Jason Lippert, the CEO of Lippert Components. He’s highlighted in Building the Best because he takes listening seriously. For instance, he holds regular “listening sessions” at different LCI Plants to ensure his executive team not only knows what his people need but can look for ways to provide it.

Lippert’s actions are brilliant because as Andy Stanley famously said, “leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people with nothing helpful to say.” 

Which begs the question, if listening is so essential, why are so many of us bad at it? The answer is complicated, but it boils down to not understanding the difference between hearing and listening.  

The difference between hearing and listening

A mentor of mine always told me, hearing is through the ears but listening is through the mind. In short, hearing is an ability, listening is a skill. You have to make a choice to listen to the ideas and perspectives of others instead of just hearing them. When you do this, you will have found one of the keys to leadership because:

How well you listen determines how well you connect, and connection is key to leadership.

If you struggle to listen, here are a few tips to help you develop the skill. 

Anchor Yourself

You can’t listen until you are anchored into a conversation. Put away your phone or any distractions. If, for some reason, that isn’t possible because of other priorities, be honest and remind yourself you need to come back to this when you are able to anchor yourself.  

Consider What Others Are Saying

There is too much going on in today’s business environment for a leader to know it all. Ensure that when others are providing ideas, you are truly considering what they are saying and not thinking about how you are going to respond. 

Prove You Listened

While the implementation of every idea isn’t possible, testing the idea or discussing it in more detail rather than disregarding is a great sign you listened.  

What are the strategies you implement to prove to others you listened? Tell us about a leader who is a great listener. What do they specifically do to show you?

A question to ponder: If I asked your spouse, “Are you are a great listener?” What would they say?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.