Real Leaders

5 Ways You Can Lead by Listening

Business people watching projection in meeting

In times of crisis, people need leaders, not heroes, with the confidence required to listen and remain open-minded to expert opinion.

This isn’t always easy considering that humans are wired to listen and defend what they already believe and to disregard information that makes them uncomfortable. Stress and uncertainty further complicate the listening process when they cause leaders to develop tunnel vision, limit their perception of problems and solutions, and rely on the comfort of their ideas.

Leaders and interrogators share two potentially fatal afflictions — falling victim to their previous successes and believing they have it all figured out. When this overconfidence sets in, they stop listening for unexpected value, and they start listening to verify their assumptions. This confirmation mentality makes it very difficult to see the cliff before going over the edge.

Below are five lessons in listening from the interrogation room for enhancing the perception of your leadership during a crisis.

Follow the first rule of listening:
Talking is the most important part of listening. It is nearly impossible to listen and learn when we are concentrating on our voice. Thankfully, there are several techniques to limit this distraction. First, make a conscious effort to let other people finish speaking before you start, no matter how important you feel your thought is. Second, limit your internal monologue as it is your biggest barrier to listening for value. Our inner monologue often focuses on how we feel or what we want to say next, and it drowns out what other people are saying. The only way we can genuinely listen to other people is if we stop talking to ourselves.

Maintain a Learning Mentality:
Before entering every critical conversation, realize there is a strong likelihood you don’t have all the information you need and ask yourself, “How can this conversation help me achieve my long and short term goals?” During the conversation, listen to each idea that is presented. More importantly, listen to the perspectives, motivations, and fears influencing each concept. Leaders who can tie ideas other people share to their objectives will be far more successful, fostering a sense of collaboration and trust.

Leverage Your Introduction:
Thorough and instructive introductions are the key elements of leading non-confrontational interactions as well as great strategic meetings. Excellent introductions start with a warm greeting and quick check-in to make sure everyone has what they need. Next, they should cover the reason for the meeting, the meeting objectives, and the expectations of the group. This is also an excellent opportunity for leaders to set the tone of the meeting by demonstrating empathy with their volume, tone, and speed of delivery as well as demonstrating humility by being self-effacing.

Let the conversation come to you:
When you chase people, they run away. Few things will kill investigative interviews or strategy sessions quicker than interrupting people. When people feel rushed, coerced, or threatened, they become defensive. When leaders set clear goals, patiently wait for their team to share their thoughts, and politely encourage them to continue sharing when necessary to gather greater amounts to strategic intelligence while cultivating a superior organizational climate.

Prove you listened:
The only way to prove you listened to someone is to follow up with them. Demonstrating attentive non-verbal behavior is excellent, but it is not enough. Following up gives people tangible evidence that you listened, you remembered what they said, and that you found it valuable enough to revisit at a later time. This validates their contributions and increases the likelihood they will continue to contribute to future conversations.

American leadership coach, Marshall Goldsmith, likes to say that the biggest mistake CEOs make is believing that they have to be right all the time, even if it doesn’t benefit them. Being right doesn’t help anyone after they’ve fallen off a cliff. People perceive how their leaders communicate with them as evidence for how much their leaders respect them. Leaders who don’t listen will undoubtedly struggle to inspire trust and solicit assistance while fighting to survive a crisis. Leaders who learn to listen will often generate high levels of trust and receive assistance without soliciting it.

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