I recently began asking my clients a question in my initial conversations and have learned to garner a lot about them from their answers. Additionally I have discovered a common area of development that I attribute to many, if not most leaders. The question that I ask leaders is to name the top three-five attributes that they feel are most important for a leader. In those conversations, I get a great list of things that I wouldn’t dream of arguing against (at least most of them), but the one thing that is conspicuously absent more often than not is the attribute of listening or as I like to refer to it, the art of listening.
Thousands of papers, articles and books have been written on the importance of visioning, the ability to develop strategy, getting results, developing people, etc… but far less energy has been expended on writing or talking about the importance of listening. Sure its gets mentioned, but oftentimes a mention is just that. When one thinks about all of the other attributes that come to mind, if a little deeper thought is given, there can be no argument that listening is “the” thread that stretches across all of the other areas, so without the ability to effectively listen, the rest of the attributes carry far less value.
Now don’t get me wrong, anyone can sit and listen, but the art of listening is far more than simply asking a question or stopping long enough to entertain an alternative suggestion. The art of listening involves possessing a spirit of curiosity, a desire to hear what the other person is going to say. This attribute is what allows the leader to connect with employees in a way that they buy-in to the vision of the leader, or believe that successful execution is possible. Listening is also the primary means of engaging employees as listening requires and shows caring on the part of the leader. When a leader learns to use listening effectively they find that their employees won’t come seeking answers to their questions, instead, they will come seeking additional questions that help them find the answer they seek. That is the secret to full empowerment!
Having said that, if I had to limit my coaching to improve only one area of leadership I would focus on helping leaders learn how not only ask questions, but instead to be the question and to be attentive to the answers received because their success will be found in the answers they get.
It really is pretty simple, just not always easy!