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Leaders Listen

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Leaders get the microphone, they are unmuted on zoom and have followers waiting to hear what they have to say. Isn’t it counter intuitive to say great leaders listen? Don’t great leaders speak?

I was the kid who didn’t speak as much as my siblings. I observed something early on that I saw play itself out later on in life. Those who speak loudest and first, don’t always get their way. I don’t know where I picked it up first, but I figured out early that it is important to, “listen to understand, not just to respond.” That simple phrase is great parenting advice, helpful in friendship, excellent when dating and then often completely forgotten in leadership.

What is at stake if we don’t listen?

The author of Proverbs several thousand years ago spoke directly to what is at stake. He saw something in his culture that still is true of us today.

Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. Proverbs 18:2

Catch that? “Fools” air their opinions quickly and are not concerned with understanding. A “fool” today can simply be someone young and naïve or be a brash bully. What is the opposite of a fool? A wise, great leader.

Want your voice heard? Want your words to sink deep with impact? Seek first to understand. Ask questions, really seek to understand and be able to articulate the world of the one you are listening to. Forget about getting a point across or winning an argument and seek to be fully immersed in what is being shared with you. When someone speaks, they are taking a risk by opening up. Take that fragile moment and celebrate it by listening and engaging. That is great leadership that genuinely earns the right to speak.

Wise people listen. The art of listening well is worth the time invested. It will improve friendships, marriage, leadership, parenting, and business relationships. Listening is powerful. Yes, leaders do need to speak and will be called on regularly to do so. Yet, the greater the leadership influence the greater the need to actively pursue the art of understanding.

Q. When was a time you remember listening to someone, but instead of listening to understand you were only listening to find a place to interrupt and speak? What does that do to the conversation? The relationship?

Q. What are 2-3 upcoming conversations you could practice this kind of listening to understand? Plan on actively going into conversations to understand rather than make a point. How did it go?


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