Having worked with a number of highly successful CEOs, I’ve learned that out of all the business acumen they have acquired over the years, attentive listening has been the number one key to many leaders’ effectiveness.
And, not surprisingly, when surveying team members of leaders who were seeking to improve their leadership skills, listening was frequently cited as the needed area for improvement.
In 360-assessments and other surveys administered on behalf of my clients, the following has been the most frequent feedback from team members:
- “My boss needs to a better listener.”
- “She/he needs to listen to our ideas.”
- “She/he doesn’t listen to me, which indicates to me that he doesn’t really care about me.”
Listening isn’t necessarily natural
Our ability to retain what we hear is substantially limited. In fact, surveys reveal that we generally only remember 20% to 50% of what we hear. Further, a Harvard Business Review article cites research indicating that within 48 hours, we only retain 25% of what we’ve heard.
So, while many people think that they are good listeners, they’re actually not!
Fortunately, listening, like all other skills, can be improved! And you can be assured that improving your listening will also improve your leadership and your overall success.With specific self-observation practices, anyone can begin to improve theirlistening.
We may think we’re listening…and find that we’re not
Take, for example, one of my clients, a financial services executive, who felt frustrated and stuck. She believed her career within her company had plateaued. She also observed that her direct reports were not as engaged with her personally as she would like. In our work together, I gathered feedback from these team members and learned that many of them felt as if she did not listen to them. They noted that she tended to jump to conclusions before they finished speaking. It bothered them that she sometimes even finished their sentences.
My client was completely surprised by the feedback she received. Nevertheless, she immediately went to work on changing these habits. In a short amount of time, she began noticing a difference in how her team members interacted with her and with each another. The spirit and enthusiasm of her team members increased. Her improved listening was definitely noticed and appreciated. The change was also reflected in her team’s financial results, which exceeded the annual goals.
Women can lead the creation of “listening companies”
I would like to note that this example is somewhat unique, as women are generally much better listeners than men. This fact has been validated in my work with my clients, specifically in the ratings and comments from 360 assessments.
Attentive and purposeful listening is essential to highly effective leadership. Thus, purposeful listening is an advantage that women have over men. Would we regularly hear the we vs. they dynamic of middle management vs. senior management and field vs. home office if more women were in top roles? I don’t think so. Listening makes a very important and positive difference.
What I’d like to see is women point out just how important listening is, act as role models, and even help their companies become listening companies, companies that listen to not only their clients, but also to their people. That is transformation, and it is best lead by women.
My invitation and encouragement is to recognize that no matter how good a listener you may think you are, there is always room for improvement. By recognizing the importance of listening, and making a commitment to improving, the quality of your leadership and relationships will definitely improve.