The ability to listen is an important leadership skill. Over the years I’ve noticed that it is inexperienced or mediocre leaders who feel like they have to dominate all conversations. It’s as if what anyone else has to say has limited or no value and it is only their opinion that counts. We’ve all been in meetings where there is that one person who simply will not be quiet and yield the floor to others. They are also often prone to interrupting their colleagues before they can finish their thoughts and using obvious body language when the center of attention isn’t focused on them. This is bad enough when it is a peer but even worse when it is the actual leader of the group. Nobody likes a “know-it-all.”
I have a colleague who is fond of saying that “most people are preparing to talk rather than listening.” I must admit to catching myself in this mode more often than I would like. You start to block out or only partially listen to what others are saying and wait for your chance to interject and share your thoughts on the topic at hand. As a result, you often miss valuable information, repeat what someone else has already said and de-motivate the other party to the conversation to continue engaging. It is a vicious cycle and ultimately you end up providing a monologue to a disinterested audience. When people start to ignore what you are saying as a leader, you are in trouble.
Leaders have the responsibility to foster rigorous debate and dialogue, not inhibit it. Your goal is to make the right decisions and produce the best solutions. The more people who participate in this process the better. The only tangible way to do this is to ask good questions and listen intently to what others are saying. You need to facilitate the conversation rather than just lead it. No one person has the market cornered on good ideas. The loudest person in the room is rarely the most intelligent; they just crave attention. In my experience, a major reason that businesses don’t grow is because the leader feels he/she must have all the answers rather than building a team of competent professionals and leveraging the skills/experience of those around them.
When I was a kid, my mom used to often say, “Less is more.” It took me too long to figure out what she meant. It’s not about how much you say, but what you are actually saying. And, if you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them. The best leaders I know pick their spots. They do their best to take it all in and only contribute when they feel they can add value or need to move things along. If you are thoughtful about when you speak, people tend to pay attention. If your ego pushes you to dominate conversations, then don’t be surprised if you find leadership to be a lonely place and continued success a hard nut to crack. Listening well is an often underrated yet critically important leadership trait.