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Cultivate Listening and Watch Your Team Grow

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Last time, we talked about focusing on the basics of our leadership role (Set expectations. Get feedback. Reinforce.) What? You’re doing all these things and still not seeing the results you hope? Still herding cats? What is an awesome leader to do?

Let me ask you something. Think about a time when you really felt heard. The person gave you a powerful sense that they truly understood you – that your thoughts and opinions mattered. What did he or she do to leave those feelings with you? Were you surprised? Now the million-dollar question – How does your team feel when you engage with them? Do they feel heard, understood, valued? Should you care? There are deadlines to meet. Customers to serve. Targets to hit.

Why should you care about listening skills? A couple reasons come to mind. Once your team members feel sincerely heard, they will be more invested in the direction you take them. And, by taking the time to fully understand a situation, you will make better decisions. Guaranteed.

Years ago in a land and profession far, far away, I had a customer near tears in my office. (Read on please! I’m really not an ogress.) We were in a meeting and the phone rang. (I forgot to turn off the ringer.) She stopped and asked if I wanted to answer the phone. I said I have voicemail and that she was my most important priority right then. Her look of disbelief left a deep impression. It struck me that the social tolerance for distraction had become so common that, when someone gives us their full attention, we’re in shock. So much battles for our attention that it’s hard to focus for long periods of time. Listening has to be a conscious choice.

How does a leader cultivate listening – both in self and others? What if we try paying attention, practicing patience and persevering?

Pay attention. We have the obvious things like not looking at our watch or answering the phone. (In fairness, to do so may require extreme willpower.) The tougher assignment is to pay attention to what’s going on inside one’s own head. Some questions to ask yourself: Are my thoughts fully focused on the individual and what they are saying? Am I listening for content (the words someone is expressing) and meaning (the context of those words)? Can I understand the feeling behind those words?

Practice Patience. Are there times when a leader needs to be decisive and act quickly – absolutely. Are there more times when patiently hearing out someone will get a better result? I’d wager yes. The critical skill for leaders is discernment – knowing just when to slow it down. Leaders have the vision and a plan to get there, but sometimes may be quick to judge when a different idea is expressed. (“That won’t work because…”) Suspending that initial urge to evaluate someone’s comments will pay long term dividends. What to do instead? Dig a little deeper. Ask more questions.

Persevere. Cultivating deep listening habits isn’t entirely intuitive. It takes commitment, focus, and ongoing acts of will. Successful leaders recognize the ability to listen to their team will contribute to the results they want. They find ways to keep the focus with professional reading and reminders to prioritize listening. They seek feedback from professionals. They ask colleagues and their team to provide input. Successful leaders know sometimes they must wait for the seeds to grow and their patience will be rewarded.

Can’t wait to hear all about it!

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