We always know that listening is one of the most important skills for effective communication, and for leaders, this skill is even more crucial – because of the following reasons.

1. We must understand others before leading others: Leadership ability begins with understanding others. We cannot connect and motivate our staff if we don’t know their concerns and needs. The best way to start is to spend time to really listen to them. This is the first and most important responsibility of a leader.

2. We must listen to simplify the problems: The Cherokee – native American people – have a wise saying: “Listen to the whispers – so that later you don’t have to listen to the screams”. Effective leaders care about the small things. They also don’t forget to listen to their intuition. More importantly, they always pay attention to read between the lines – to listen to what people don’t say. This requires them not just to listen effectively but to possess a skill to understand others and a learning mindset when accepting feedback or criticism. Leaders must know how to listen to what they need to listen – not what they want to.

3. We must listen to build trust: Employees will only be motivated to understand and buy in our messages when they see that we can truly listen, understand, and respect them. Otherwise, if they feel that we don’t really listen, they will slowly lose their trust and the leader-employee leadership will deteriorate. For a leader, nothing is worse than losing the trust of his or her people.

4. We must listen to improve the performance for the whole organization: Car manufaturer Chrysler’s ex-President wisely said: “The difference between a large company and an ordinary company lies within the group of leaders who know how to listen.” It means the ability to listen must be practiced at all levels of the organization: employees, colleagues, customers, suppliers, and even competitors.

There’s an interesting survey, saying that we can listen to only half of what others say, truly pay attention to only half of what we listen, understand only half of what we truly pay attention to, believe only half of what we understand, and remember only half of what we believe. If we use this “formula” to our daily work, we have:

Total duration in which others talk to us: 4 hours

  • We can listen: 2 hours
  • We truly listen: 1 hour
  • We understand: 30 minutes
  • We believe: 15 minutes
  • We remember: no more than 8 minutes (of everything that others tell us)

When we have more power, a common problem is that we become less patient toward our staff. We want them to work fast, think fast, and get the results fast. This “fast” mindset sometimes causes us to forget to listen. When we don’t listen, it means we don’t care and this is when our leadership ability is seriously affected.

Adapted from “Leadership Gold” by John C. Maxwell.

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