Thursday 13 November 2014 7:37 pm

Leadership goes wrong when you just don’t listen

Always jumping in with the solution won’t curry favour with staff.
Unsurprisingly, some of the most inspiring leaders I have met are also the most skilled listeners I know. They empathise, even if they don’t agree. They make me feel like they care about me and my views, and that makes me care about meeting or exceeding their expectations.
Employees say that the ability to listen is one of the most important skills of leadership. But they also say their own bosses don’t listen to them very much at all. As a result, their motivation and engagement drop dramatically – as does their performance. 
No matter how senior you are, the chances are that you are not as good at listening as you should be. Identifying certain traits will tell you where you sit on the listening scale. It requires some brutal personal honesty, but will help you be a better listener, and a better leader. 


For many of us, listening is something we’re simply not very good at. Perhaps some of the following feel all too familiar: you speak more than others, and think interrupting is a natural part of conversation. Do you feel impatient when others are speaking? Or do you find yourself thinking about what to say, instead of concentrating on the words of the speaker. Are you someone who shows your displeasure easily, especially at bad news? And do you get distracted quickly? If some – or even all – of these ring true, then you are a non-listener – or at best a superficial listener. Unfortunately, that means you’re not only likely to be a poor leader – you might even be disliked. 


There’s a second group of listeners who still struggle with paying attention to what others have to say. Again, they have qualities we probably all recognise: wanting to get to the bottom line quickly, not being overly interested in how people feel – just what they’ve achieved. You might frequently forget what people have told you, or dip in and out of attentiveness, picking and choosing what you hear. Saying “yes” to this set of attributes makes you a marginal listener. Unfortunately, you will be missing a lot of the content and exposing yourself to huge misunderstandings.


Some leaders are good listeners. But even then, you might have missed important clues about what your interlocutor is really saying. If you’re hearing what they’re saying, but not understanding their intent – or you rate content above emotion – this could be you. You might also find it hard to pick up on body language, or to keep focus on the speaker. And as soon as they’ve stopped speaking, you start proposing solutions. The trouble with this is that the other person may feel like you’ve “taken over” – volleying solutions at them when what they probably were after was some lighter coaching on how to go about solving an issue themselves. This may leave them feeling disempowered and demotivated. 
Sometimes, as a leader, the most inspirational thing you can do is give people a darn good listening to. 
Kevin Murray is chairman of The Good Relations Group and is the author of two best-selling books: The Language of Leaders and Communicate to Inspire, published by Kogan Page.

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