“No one will listen to us until we listen to ourselves” – Marianne Williamson
Recently Richard Branson asked “What do you think are the characteristics of great leaders?”.
Many were quick to respond with their thoughts, wisdom, and insight.
I, like others, am a huge believer and supporter of the fact that listening is one of the crucial characteristics for great leaders (it came up a lot in the response to the above question)
In my role as executive and leadership coach, I’ve worked with many great leaders. So why is it then that I keep coming across the characteristics of ‘bad’ listening?
What I’ve come to notice is that we have taken a very simplistic view of ‘great listener’ as meaning ‘great at listening to others’.
Of course it makes sense; we have been putting so much effort in to ensuring our leaders are more agreeable and collaborative. We have spent a fortune developing them to actively listen to ensure more inclusiveness, better interpersonal relationships and increased results. This does work. Many leaders now have enhanced listening skills and are better at building mutually beneficial relationships. Good!
… Good but not Great!
I believe our leaders leave themselves at risk of appearing unclear, unconvincing and unprofessional because whilst they are good at listening to what others are saying they are not great at listening to what they themselves are saying. Even when they know they have blurted out something off-message, they don’t auto-correct, they just keep talking. More and more words, less and less quality message.
Where’s the evidence?
On many occasions I ‘shadow’ my clients and I’m invited to give feedback on their performance. They often appear quite shocked at the feedback about the quality of their communication and how it has impacted the room.
I always bring the facts, the sort of surprising things they say (surprising to them!)
“ Tell me your ideas but I am pretty sure we will go with mine”
“ I know what you guys want, I just don’t know what I want yet”
“ If I was better at being accountable to myself we might be further along in our progress”
It would be easy for us to judge their level of intelligence at this point; after all, these are obviously weak messages, rookie mistakes.
Whilst it might be obvious to us, the surprise is that it’s not obvious to them, and these are far from rookie leaders, these are serious market players, high profile and high performers.
It’s quite disarming to them to know that while they are confident about their expertise and have clear thoughts and actions that they don’t actually listen to what they are saying when delivering critical messages.
So, how to define great listening
With this in mind, I would like to encourage us to use a better definition for ‘great listening’. One that moves beyond the current norm.
Great listening =
actively listening to others
actively listening to yourself while auto-correcting when necessary
Is this a multi-task too far?
I don’t believe so.
How to listen to yourself first
We need to pay extra attention when we are speaking by actively listening to what our words mean and the clarity and strength of the message. It is definitely more about quality than quantity. Is it meaningful or is it just noise ?
In order to improve the characteristic of ‘listening to yourself’ start by balancing the focus of your listening.
This is a conscious deliberate action.
Turn off the ‘auto-listen’ button and turn on the ‘listen to what I am saying’ button instead – you may be pleasantly surprised at the increased quality of your communications and increased quality in your results.
While it may feel a little unusual in the beginning, give it a try. Stop listening to others just for a moment so you can start listening to yourself.
Start at your next meeting, presentation or group discussion.
Richard Branson went on to say “Great leaders are great listeners, who know their best asset is the people they work with”
Be a great leader by being a great listener.
Actively listen to yourself. I’m sure you’re worth listening to!
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