Few would argue that listening is one of the most essential skills for a leader to master. What might not be obvious though is how a leader’s way of listening can shape behavior and, ultimately, organizational culture.
Consider that the way you listen tells people what's important to you and what isn't. It also communicates what you want to hear and what you don't. It's not hard to imagine how your listening skills can affect the behavior of those you lead.
Yet the power of listening is all too often relegated to the category of an elusive soft skill that's good to have rather than as a critical access to influencing others.
Here are three steps to elevate your leadership through the simple yet potent act of conscious listening.
1. Be aware of what you naturally listen for
Do you listen for the answer or the bottom line? Do you listen to “find the flaw” by discovering what someone may be missing or mistaken about? Do you listen only for what you care about or want to know versus what someone may be trying to tell you?
You see, we all have a default way of listening. You could say it's the filter through which you listen to the world. My default, for example, is to listen for the bottom line.
Start by asking yourself, “What do I listen for?”
2. Examine the impact of what you naturally listen for
Early in my career, listening for the bottom line all too often resulted in impatience that I didn't always hide well. The result was that I was prone to appearing more like a machine that could grind through work at great speed than a person who really cared about doing a great job and the people with whom I worked.
An important learning for me was that it didn't really matter that I knew I cared. What mattered is whether or not the people I was leading experienced that I cared about them and not just about getting the work done.
Here’s another example. A common way of listening I encounter is to find the flaw. And let me be clear this isn’t just an approach negative people use. In fact, people who pride themselves on their ability to fix things and solve problems often listen for the flaw because it lets them do what they do best. Imagine though what it’s like being on the other side of someone who is always listening for the flaw in your thinking? Consider how this could impact your culture – for better or for worse?
Ask yourself, “How does what I listen for naturally affect those around me?”
3. Consciously choose what you’ll listen for
Once you’re aware of what you automatically listen for and become awake to how that affects those you lead, you have a wonderful opportunity to choose to affect change.
In my case, I simply chose to shift from listening for the bottom line to listening for the key points of what others were saying. I discovered all those years of listening for the bottom line had left me with a well-honed skill of being able to listen for and articulate the meaningful messages from what previously seemed like a lot of unnecessary information. Whereas previously, listening for the bottom line felt a lot like waiting painfully for people to get to the point, shifting to listening for the point gave me an exciting challenge and a way to help others get to the heart of the matter more quickly.
However, the real value in making this shift wasn't in how it impacted me, but rather how it impacted those I lead. I quickly discovered that when I could easily tell others the point I was hearing, they felt both validated and heard.
More and more people started coming to me to help them get clear direction so they could communicate better. We started collaborating on our communications with our clients and continued to get better at closing the gap between what we thought our clients asked for and what they really wanted.
Listen to what matters
What you listen for drives how people follow you because it influences how they interact with you each and every day. Consider that small shifts in the way you listen can make a big difference in the behavior of others, especially in how they interact with you.
If you want to alter the behavior of those you lead and have a positive impact on your culture, try listening for something new.
Your turn: What could you listen for now to elevate your leadership? Leave a comment below!