Thursday, March 11, 2010

5 Little Things That Make a BIG Difference as a Leader - Part 2: Listen Up!

This is the second part of a five part series about the little things a leader can do that could make a BIG difference in how they are perceived as leaders.

I have bad news and good news for all of you leaders and aspiring leaders.

You decide which you’d rather read first. Start with the good or jump to the bad and come back.

The Good News:

The ability to listen has been identified in study after study as one of the most important leadership skills – if not THE most important – than any other.

When you listen, you’re seen as a leader that:

 Is trustworthy

 Is patient

 Cares about others

 Is respectful

 Is compassionate

The ability to listen to employees, manager, peers, coworkers, and customers is a core, foundational skill for successful leaders. The ability to listen is key to:

 Developing and maintaining relationships

 Making good decisions

 Solving problems

Now here’s the good news:

Listening is one of the EASIEST leadership skills to learn and apply! We were born with the ability to listen. It’s a natural gift. Most people already know how to listen, and when they choose to, can do it very well.

If you want to listen, but for some reason you really don’t know how, no worries.

All you have to do is keep your mouth shut. Then, listen like the CEO is talking to you. Or like you're on a first date.

If that doesn’t work for you, then there are plenty of books, videos, courses, and blog posts with excellent, proven tips. No need to repeat them all here. With a few tips and a lot of practice, you’ll be astounded with the results.
Talk about little things that will make a BIG difference – what other skill could give a little this kind of return on investment? Give it a try. Sit back and watch your relationships improve – at work and in your personal life.

The Bad News:

Listening is one of the lowest rated leadership skills for executives. It’s an average rated skill for individual contributors and managers, then takes a nose-dive for executives. It’s one of the most common flaws I see on 360 assessments. It’s the number one reason employees think their bosses are jerks.

The botom line: poor listening is a significant contributor to executive derailment (failure).

When you fail to listen, you’re perceived as someone who:

 Is insensitive to the needs of others

 Is arrogant, impatient, or uninterested

 Is dictatorial

 Makes others feel stupid or unintelligent

 Is close-minded

Failure to listen can result in:

 Disastrous decisions

 Mistakes

 Bruised and unproductive relationships (both at work and home)

…..and eventually, if not addressed – you’ll go down in flames.

If you’re seen as a bad listener, in most cases, it’s because you’re making a CHOICE not to listen. To be blunt, you’ve gotten so full of yourself (due to your success), that you don’t have the interest or patience in what most people are saying.

If you don’t believe me, try asking for feedback. Ask the people in your life that matter to you how well you listen - and what it means to them when you don't. If this little scolding has already caused you to see the light, then go back to the good news. There’s hope for you. Good luck!

8 comments: said...

I think this rings completely true. Listening is not only an action but a skill that takes time, practice and awareness!

Twitter: @BenjaminMcCall

Mary Jo Asmus said...

Oh thank goodness you are talking about this too. As you were posting, I was delivering a breakout and a keynote in which "listening skills" for leaders played prominent roles. I wondered if anyone in the audience was listening :-).

Seriously, you got my ear on this post. Well, both ears. Almost every leader I work with needs some refreshing on how to listen better. Thanks Dan.

Anonymous said...


Another great post! I cannot agree more with your comment that most of leaders today do not LISTEN. Just the other day, I was sitting in a meeting with several our Vice Presidents. Throughout the meeting, all but one of the VPs was able to ignore his blackberry and LISTEN to what others have to say and other. The rest was busy answering emails. Not only I think this is not professional, their act is very disrespectful in my own opinion. It shows that the other's opinions do not matter as much as their own. As you have mentioned, it shows that they are arrogant, impatient, or uninterested. Thank you for another great post!


Unknown said...

Great second point Dan! To me 99.9% of a healthy, positive communication is through listening, so the rest just comes on top of that: leadership and followership- two-way communication. Therefore, to effectively communicate we need to "listen up". Thank you.

Dan McCarthy said...

Ben -
It sure does!

Mary Jo -
Thanks. You wrote a really great series on how to listen, a must read.

Chun -
Thanks. That's too bad, and yet all too common. I agree, the blackberry/iphone thing has gotten out of control.

Javier -

Tim said...

Thanks for another great post! It's great to have a reminder of such a basic thing, that has such a huge impact.

I have found that truly valuing other people and looking for reasons to see the best in them is a great way to naturally listen to what they have to say.

Andy said...

Great post Dan. And just to accentuate it, this recent article from the Financial Times could probably be Exhibit 1A for illustrating the importance of listening:

"The basic thrust of it is that employee representatives at Toyota had informed senior management in 2006 that they were concerned about falling quality at the company."

And they didn't listen!

Unknown said...

You make some very good points in this post. I have had multiple managers in the past 5 years. Some have been much better than others. I found the ones who took the time to listen to me gained my respect much faster and easier than the ones who did not listen. This is not to say the managers who listened always agreed with what I had to say, but it was nice to know that my thoughts mattered. I felt the ones who didn't listen had an "I'm right, you're wrong, we're doing it my way" type of attitude. This may not have necessarily been the case, but this is how it appeared because they didn't try to listen to what I had to say.