It's paramount to a leaders success that they create an environment where their employees can flourish and do so in a manner that breeds optimism and opportunity while showing them that the company (and leadership) is there to support them.
The above statement probably comes off a bit obvious as most people in business recognize that without a supportive, positive work environment leaders will struggle to keep their employees happy and working diligently. If the notion of a positive work environment is so obvious than why do the vast majority of leaders struggle significantly to actually put one into action?
The answer: they don't listen!
Many leaders have a similar characteristic which contributes to our little problem we're discussing here. The problem is that people love the sound of their own voice, so much so that other sounds (people's voices, options, ideas, frustrations, etc.) get stifled in the process. The sound of our own voice makes us feel good yet too much of it can put us in situations where our mouths write checks our bodies can’t cash. Wanting to be heard is part of our desire to influence, make an impact or speak our minds; whereas wanting to be heard over others (intentionally or unintentinoally) can be directly attributed to ego.
Listening isn't as easy as one thinks it is but it's one of the great truths having to do with leadership. That truth is the art of listening is the end all be all in leadership.
Why is listening an important habit to develop to be a good leader? Those who possess the ability to listen earnestly experience deeper relationships, advanced awareness of how they show up and how others are impacted by them (EQ), are genuine in their care for others and are touted as being “leaders people would run through a wall for”. To become an exceptional leader, you must develop your ability to listen.
You may be thinking, “Well, that’s not very profound. I listen all the time.” But, do you really listen?
Let’s see how good of a listener you are. If you’ve done one of the following in the last week you’ll want to continue reading this article:
The list goes on, and on, however these six items seem to be the biggest perpetrators of what we see from people who aren’t engaged and listening.
Why is it we don’t listen? Short answer – our egos get in the way of allowing someone else the stage to talk.
The long answer – Perhaps you’re the exception as your listening skills are top notch. For everyone else out there, which I’ll gladly throw myself into this boat, as leaders we struggle with listening. We tell ourselves that others are wrong; only we know the truth; “I don’t have time for this”; I can multi-task while we’re talking; my point makes more sense; they’re idiots; they must not see the big picture (love that one); they have to hear my side before we can move on, etc. With so much going on in the world today it’s easy to fall into the trap that you don’t have time to have a conversation, especially if that conversation isn’t of grave importance.
Leaders – read closely here.
The success of your job depends on your ability to listen. Forbes writer Glenn Llopis says that when “leaders judge, they expose their immaturity and inability to embrace differences.” Did you know that your act of not listening actually sent such a strong communication to the person on the other end?
Imagine how it made them feel!
How can we fix this?
Short answer – zip it (our mouths that is) and focus on the person in front of you.
Long answer – put away your phone, your work at hand, close your computer screen or turn it off, close your door for that matter and stop mulling over that rerun episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians you watched for the sixth time last night. Do whatever you need to in order to give the person on the other side of the table your complete and undivided attention.
WHY should we focus on being better listeners?
When we listen we allow others to speak their mind furthering an atmosphere of open communication, respect and free flowing ideas. Employees perform best in these environments and show up to work often times much happier to take on the day at hand.
People follow and support leaders who live a servants’ mentality which means when their people have an idea, a question, a problem, or a wild haired suggestion, they listen as if listening is going out of style. Being a servant doesn’t mean being a leader is weak, it means their people and company come first, before themselves. Conversation is the gateway to a persons’ mind, body and soul. It's best we listen or we’ll run the chance of missing out on some truly incredible opportunities to serve the very people that make all the difference - our employees.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.