|Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. – Winston ChurchillThe story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Bewildered, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”For leaders, there is nothing quite as important as listening. In fact, according to a report in Business News Daily it ranks as one of the top reasons why employees hate their bosses – they do not listen. To be sure, there is a time and place for leaders to step up and speak up, but the truly effective ones know when to be quiet and listen. Here are three tips for becoming a better listener and why it matters.
To be informed, listen with your ears. This is the most basic form of your communication as a leader. Listening for informational purposes is primarily to receive information that one needs to perform a task or make a decision. It has little to do with anything beyond what is communicated at the time of delivery. And in some cases this is perfectly acceptable and appropriate given the circumstances.
But as a leader if this is your primary form of communication then you are not engaged with your team and are likely experiencing some form of deficiency with respect to how they view your leadership. Listening to be informed is necessary at times, but if you want to lead on a higher level you will have to step up.
To connect, listen with your heart. Informational listening is appropriate at times, but to lead on a higher level you will have to listen on a higher level. When your team members buy into your vision, when their passions are your passions, and when your goals become theirs goals – then listening to your team takes on a whole new meaning. And it is when you listen with your heart that you connect with their heart.
As a leader there is nothing more powerful than the ability to connect with those around you. Be it your staff, clients, or shareholders. The most meaningful and effective way of doing that is found when hearts are connected. Whatever the challenges you face or the goals you have if you have made that connection then together you can face it and together you can achieve it.
To demonstrate (listening), let your actions show it. Listening in some ways can be like paying lip service. You can go through the motions of listening but at the end of the day nothing changes. The same problems exist tomorrow that existed today and the levels of frustration only worsen. But as a leader who has made the connection with his people, the ultimate show of respect is given when you follow up with your actions.
To be sure, not every idea and not every proposal is going to be a fit. But the respect you show by listening builds your credibility as a leader and fosters a culture of respect. The greatest thing you can do as a leader is to create the climate in which ideas are welcomed and everyone has a voice that is heard.
Are you listening?
Doug Dickerson is a syndicated columnist. He writes a weekly column for this newspaper. To contact Doug Dickerson, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.