How Great Leaders Listen
We all want to be the type of leader that employees brag about working for on Instagram #bestbossever. One of our favorite tactics for becoming a brag-aboutable boss is deceptively simple. Learn how to listen.
It’s well-proven that great leaders are exceptional listeners, so why is it so uncommon to work with leaders who actually, truly listen? To all the leaders out there, I know it’s challenging to make every single person feel heard, represented, valued, and appreciated when you’re teetering on sleep deprivation and bouncing from meeting to meeting with little time to come up for air. Before we dig in, I suggest printing this somewhere as a reminder to have some compassion for yourself. I sympathize, I empathize, but I’m also here to tell you… get better at listening or you’re going to lose talent by watching their passion diffuse and the door close behind them on their way out.
After years of being led, being a leader, and interviewing hundreds of employees about their leaders, I’ve come up with some of the best tactics you can take to be the leader that people want to work for... because you listen.
MAKE THE TIME.
Time is the most precious currency in today’s working world, and that’s why it matters most to the people you lead. Watch out for subtle cues that you’re getting antsy: checking your watch because someone is taking too long to explain something, shifting your weight when you realize your schedule is getting pushed, cutting off personal conversations because it’s distracting from the task at hand. All these moves, even if you can argue they’re necessary, send a message that you have more important places to be and the people in the room are, therefore, unimportant. I challenge you to include a 10-minute buffer for every meeting in your calendar to allow for building relationships (read: conversing about personal life) and asking probing questions. If you take the time to not only get to know your employees but truly understand what they’re working on and how they’re approaching it, you’ll be seen as a leader who values each person on the team. And you can’t put a price on making an employee feel valued. Well, actually you can.
DON’T OPEN MEETINGS/CONVERSATIONS TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF.
In a list of leadership pet peeves, this is at the top for me. Just because leaders are in a position of power, it sometimes seems like they expect everyone will want to listen to them. Not so! Start meetings by making it about the people in the room, whether you’re leading it or not. No matter how flat your culture is, there’s always an awareness of who is at the top so they’re going to follow your lead. Ask questions, call back to previous conversations, and build on the foundation that’s there. In so doing, you’re saying you care more about understanding the people who are there instead of them understanding your position first. I encourage this in the office, and even more so, in sales conversations.
The two tactics outlined above are based on a simple concept. Rather than turning the attention inward toward yourself—”I’m short on time,” or “I’m going to tell you about my expertise and key learnings”—you’re focusing it outward on those you’re leading. “What can I do for you during this time?” and “tell me more about where your head is at on this project.”
That one simple act of making interactions not about you, but about your people, is a critical step in the journey towards becoming a great listener and an Instagrammable leader.