The Importance Of Listening While Leading

by Mike O'Neill

Have you ever had a team member come to you and say they want their voices heard by their leaders? Did you know that what they are really saying is that they want a leader who not only hears them - but really listens? 

You can hear someone speak all day long, but if you are not actively listening to what they are telling you, it may as well fall on deaf ears. And that is no way to lead your team. 

Employees seek attention, feedback, and support from their trusted leaders. Leaders must train themselves to be more mindful of their team's needs in order to inspire professional development effectively and increase overall performance.

When leaders listen, they create trustworthy bonds that are transparent and come with a degree of loyalty.  You will know a leader who has their employees’ best interest at heart because they will be the one who truly listens to them. 

It can be difficult as a leader to know what your team is thinking about. You want to know what is troubling them or how to help them get out of the slumps which are affecting their performance. It all takes active listening. 

In the rest of this article, we’re going to share with you information about active listening and five tips on how you can improve your active listening to be the leader your team deserves.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is an important technique used for training, counseling, and solving disputes or conflicts. Active listening requires a leader to fully focus, concentrate, understand,  respond to,  and then remember what was said.

Why is Active Listening Important for Leaders?

Active listening is essential for leaders because it can encourage bonds and stronger communication between you and your team members. When employees know that their leader cares for and appreciates them it makes each team member feel valuable, which is an important factor in higher employee engagement.

5 Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

Getting started isn’t as hard as you think. You may be thinking that this is a whole new skill set you will have to learn - it’s not. It’s much easier than you think to get started. Be mindful of these five tips, and you’ll be well on your way to being a leader with excellent listening skills.

Tip #1. Minimize Distractions

Minimizing distractions is a simple way to get started with listening when leading. It is too easy to get distracted when someone is talking, and your mind starts to wander. 

Eliminate the problem from the beginning. Turn off the computer or turn away from the screen. Turn the ringer off on your cell phone.

Tip #2. Make Eye Contact

Make eye contact with your team member when they are talking and keep it. When a leader keeps eye contact with the speaking team member, it indicates to them that you are interested and paying attention. It means - you are actively listening to what they have to say to you.

Tip #3. Reflect

Reflect the team member’s feelings with appropriate statements like:

  • “That must be difficult.” 
  • “I understand.”
  • “Sure sounds stressful.”
  • “What can I do to help?”

When you reflect questions and statements back to your team members, including feelings and acknowledgment, you’re actively listening and participating. 

Tip #4. Encourage

By using subtle verbal encouragers like “right” and “mmm hmmm” or using non-verbal encouragers like nodding your head, when your team member is speaking signals to the person that you are engaged in their conversation. You are encouraging them to go on.

Tip #5. Keep an Open Mind

Having an open mind as a leader is a crucial skill in active listening. You may not always agree with another person, but you must have an open mind and be respectful enough to demonstrate that you are here to listen and you are flexible.

Good leaders are flexible, allowing for change when it’s called for. Having an open mind will enable you to hear both sides of everything and reflect on it equally.

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