You can't lead if you don't listen

“Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.” — Dale Carnegie

I recently finished up a leadership training program with a client company that focused on building current and future leaders. At the final session of the several we had, the discussion centered on what the participants felt was their single biggest takeaway. It was almost unanimous — BEING A BETTER LISTENER!

It was this same group of two dozen people that miserably failed a little “listening test” in one of the early sessions. In almost 100% of the cases where we do this test, the strong theme is that we all have a tendency to listen for what we want to hear, not to what is being said. So what gets in the way? In our incredible, wired, fast-paced world, there are personal agendas, different communication styles, feelings, multiple things vying for our attention, time pressures, multitasking, and the list goes on. The one theme that runs through all these areas is that, for many, it is all about ME! We might say we are interested in someone else’s opinion. We will probably only really listen if our own opinions are confirmed.

It is important that leaders know each person’s goals, speak in terms of their interests, and guide and advise subordinates on their future. The only way this can happen is by listening to your people. Unfortunately, the opposite often occurs and managers tend to get demanding and critical. Doesn’t it make sense that we all get irritable when we face the same old problems and we just get sick of the same old demands of an endlessly frustrating game? Leadership is the answer and listening to employees’ concerns, interests, and aspirations is the key to getting employees to listen to why things at work are the way they are. They need to hear where the business is going, what the future looks like, and what needs to be done. They need leaders who listen, coach, and guide them through change. As leaders, we need to get face-to-face with people, be interested in them, and ask rather than tell. We need to be skillful at creating a culture of recognition, appreciation, and respect.

When we suggest that it is very important for leaders to learn about the personal lives of their people, it amazes me how often this is a new idea — or even worse a dumb idea! The deeper the understanding you have of where your people are at both professionally, as well as personally, will both enhance your relationship and prove critical when it comes time to get them motivated.



A colleague of mine recently heard from a friend who complained that her manager never returns emails and is slow to return any message, even though their company just lost two of the best leaders on their executive team. She never hears from the guy even though she has been working hard during tough times. Somehow, the manager doesn’t see how he is making things difficult for everyone. The manager probably thinks he is a terrific leader and his actions (and non-actions) are justified. He is centered on himself, not his team.

As many of you know, the sad truth is that most employees are not engaged. Many large companies survey their people annually and the findings are clear. We have learned that employees want to feel valued, want to know how they are important to the business, want to be involved, want to be challenged, and crave being listened to. A leader can never focus enough on communication (especially the listening part), coaching, and training. While leading change in an organization, don’t forget to engage and build people so they have more of the attitude, competency, and readiness to participate in the competitive world we all live in.

In summary, there is a lot of credibility to the old adage: “They don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.”

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