Leadership Power Tools: Listening

Leadership, like carpentry, is made easier and more effective using power tools.  Instead of circular saws and impact drivers, the leader leverages specific skills to better the outcomes of the enterprise.  These “power tool skills” are used to support, encourage, strengthen, and make better the experience of being a part of the team.

One of the most basic and important power tools in the leadership toolbox is listening.  People are the focus of leadership, and people want to be heard.  Listening to and really hearing the people on the team is critical. 

Sadly, most people, and therefore most leaders, are not very good at the skills needed for listening honestly and effectively.  Here are a few roadblocks to effective listening and a few tips for improving your listening.

First, a few roadblocks.

  • Listening with your own goals in mind. Most people are what is referred to as “narcissistic conversationalists.”  Their conversations are about themselves, without much regard for the people with who they are conversing.
  • Listening to respond. Most people are already forming a response in the minds before the other has finished speaking.  Not much hearing going on here.
  • Listening only when it is convenient.  If we can’t make room to stop and listen to people who want to talk, we probably cannot often make room for people, period.
  • Being too busy to invest in people.  Leadership is first about people, not projects, and listening is one of the most important leadership practices.

Now, a few listening tools to use every day.

  • Listen to others with identifying their goals and their needs as your priority.
  • Listen to understand what the other person is both saying and feeling. 
  • Draw out their messages with good questions.
  • Make time to seek people out for the purpose of hearing their stories and aspirations.   
  • Create listening space in your interactions with people and in your daily schedule. 
  • Give time to those who are not engaged in the mission of the enterprise.  Engaging people who are not connected is the best way to make those connections.
  • Give yourself time to learn to listen well, and to listen with empathy. 

Howard Hendricks was a graduate professor in Dallas, TX for most of his professional career.  He undoubtedly touched many lives in the classroom.  Yet near the end of his life, Howie recounted how the greatest impact from his years of student work grew from the time he spent every weekday sitting under a tree on “Howie’s Bench.” For years he went there to listen to students who would stop in to talk with him.  The reputation he had as a listener was known throughout the student body.  No one knows how many thousands of students (and faculty) talked with Howie at his bench.  Sometimes they talked in groups, but mostly one-to-one.  Listening was Howie’s power tool and anchors his significant legacy.

Perhaps the greatest factor in a leadership legacy is in how we listen.

Image via WSJ.com

One thought on “Leadership Power Tools: Listening

  1. Tim,

    I appreciate this. It is very well likely the plank of my eye… however, it is much easily seen as the speck in others eyes around me.

    Our ambulance has a governing body made up of two married people. I would consider Joy to be one of my best friends, however, especially in the past few years she has really gotten into “lecturing”. As smart as she is and as compassionate as she is, no one appreciates a lecture they didn’t sign up for. When she is defending her spouse she is intensely lecture some. And as much as I wish to share this with her, I don’t dare. I simply cannot take many more of her lectures back at me about all my faults and reasons why people are the way they are. It is a true struggle on our service and rather than making her or them feel attacked and in need of defense I sincerely wish she understood that our crew is a crew of people who want to HELP. We have lost some really good responders because, rather than listening, she/they go into defense mode. Volunteers just don’t have the patience for the fight. I’m exhausted. She’s burnt out and exhausted thinking we are all bad people. We have went through 3 codirectors who got exhausted…

    Great Article.


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