One Leadership Skill That Will Give You An Edge


Leaders listen. Surprised?

Listening is one of the hardest skills to master. There aren’t many people who are really good at listening. Sure, you may hear what it is said, but are you actually listening? There is a difference. Hearing can be passive, done with the ears. Listening is very active, controlled by the brain. Listening is an activity that prepares  an individual to hear what is being said. That nuance is very important, here’s why:

I can hear an entire song played or hear someone read a passage of a book and when it is done I may not have retained a single thing I heard. It’s true, I’ve done it. However, If I am listening for certain words, listening for meaning of what is said or read, and mentally validating what I expect to hear my odds of retention go way up.

The same can be true of your employees and teammates. It is possible to sit in front of your employees or team members during a 1-2-1 meeting and hear their every word but yet, you’ve missed whole chunks of the conversation. You may have missed verbal cues, questions, or things that are important to them. We’ve all done it. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it happens. I’m sure it happens now more than ever. Partly due to the distraction of a heavy workload, partly due to our warped belief that we can multi task effectively, and partly just because of the way we are wired.

Try this exercise: Right now, start counting to 50 in your head. I want you to visualize each number as you say it to yourself. Ready…Go…

How far did you get before you thought of something else? “What’s the next step?” “Why to 50?” “What does he mean visualize each number?” “I’d love a donut right now…” “Why do they call it Curling?” Anyway…..

If you made it to 50 uninterrupted, I’d be impressed. No one does. Your mind won’t let you. That squishy grey processor is geared to run at 100 mph all the time. If your brain interrupts your own thoughts while reading this blog,  guess what it’s doing when someone else is speaking? It’s thinking about your ‘to-do’ list; preparing tonight’s grocery list; looking at your employee’s desktop vacation pictures (wow, he needs a tan); and preparing to utter the next question or comment. It takes discipline to control it. It is a skill. One that has to be developed. Here is the good news: It can be done!

The even better news is that if you master this one skill you will become a more effective leader.

[bctt tweet=”Master the skill of listening and you’ll be amazed what you hear!”]

By mastering listening you will hear more of what is said, that will make you more likely to pick up on things that are important to your team. By listening better you will hear more of what is not said, a key attribute of a leader, that allows you to question further and really dig into the heart of a conversation. Listening can also be observed by those around you. People know when you are listening (and when you are not) and it can be a building block to a trusting relationship. When an employee observes you not listening to them because you are distracted or thinking of your rebuttal they are more likely to clam up or hold back their thoughts. If they see signs that you are engaged and truly listening they will open up and you will hear things you may never have heard before.

So, how can you master this skill? Try the following:

  • Try taking notes. Having to process what is being said and having to write it down will consume so much brain power you won’t be able to think of anything else.
  • Prepare to summarize what you’ve heard. Knowing that you will have to summarize and repeat what is being said will keep your brain focused on input.
  • Relax. Be in the moment. It’s not easy. Log out of your computer, put your phone in the drawer, and close your door or curtains. Focus on whoever is in the chair in front of you.
  • Read your emails out loud. Speaking the words and seeing them will help you better comprehend the meaning behind what your folks have written. Good leaders listen to what is written too.
  • Walk and talk. Take your employees for a walk around the block. For me, it is easier to really listen when I’m walking with someone. Interestingly, it also seems easier to talk to someone openly this way, perhaps because we aren’t eye to eye. Try it and let me know what you think.
  • Tell people you are working on it. Most will respect you for it and appreciate it, some will hold you accountable to it, but more importantly, it will keep you on your toes.

A leader that listens is a leader that will be trusted. A leader that listens to her employees is more likely to hear what they need. A leader that actively listens to his staff will better understand their capabilities and be able to build a stronger team. A leader that listens to  her people’s hopes and dreams will be able to better shape them and create rewarding career paths. A leader that is listening for danger is better able to protect the unit. Leaders that listen make well informed decisions. Leaders that listen are more effective.

This week: commit to practicing your listening skills, let me know how it goes.

Master the skill of listening and you’ll be amazed what you hear!


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One thought on “One Leadership Skill That Will Give You An Edge

  1. Always a good discipline on which to work. Timely for Performance Evaluation season. I have used the phrase, “What I think I hear you saying is…” It energizes tough conversations. I will work on some of your other tips. Thanks.

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