When you think about leaders and managers who have brought out the best in you, what qualities come to mind? I remember those who listened, empowered me, demonstrated trust, offered support, and were dedicated to my growth.
Workplaces are starting to recognize and promote the idea of coach-like managers. Someone who asks more questions, acknowledges strengths, and empowers their team members to develop and grow as employees and human beings.
In their book Co-Active Leadership: Five Ways to Lead, Karen and Henry Kimsey-House explore the idea that leaders can no longer rely on the old ways of command and control. Leaders need to create a connection with those who are following while at the same time sharing a clear vision and direction. It is also important to remember that sometimes you need to step out and let others take the lead.
In other words, leadership today requires more agility than ever. It also requires leaders to be present and listen with full curiosity.
I have been fortunate to work with many great leaders who were agile enough to play these different roles. During my time on the Apra Board of Directors in the mid 2000s, I really came to understand the power of having a leader who listens before they speak.
I served on several committees as a new Board Member. I noticed some of the committee chairs usually spoke first and made their opinions clear. These were leaders with a clear vision and a sense of what direction we should take. However, I think there was an unintentional impact with this style. It limited the perspectives and options that we considered. Leaders need to make everyone feel safe enough to share opposing views. When leaders always speak first it can create a dynamic where anyone who has a different opinion feels like they have to “disagree.”
Other committee chairs showed me a different way. They encouraged all the voices to come into the conversation. They listened deeply, asked questions and summarized what was being said. These leaders also had clear vision and were willing to share their ideas. They were simply agile enough to lead in different ways. As a member of the committee, I experienced a sense of freedom in those conversations trusting that we would consider different perspectives. I decided that was the kind of leader I wanted to be.
I was recently reading The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey and he also emphasized the importance of listening first. He describes the concept of “Listen First” as seeking to understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, experiences and viewpoints. He reminds leaders not to try to diagnose, influence or prescribe until you have really listened.
This creates trust and also gives more insight and leads to better decisions. These ideas put words to the experience I had while serving on the Apra committees with leaders who listened more than they spoke.
If you want to improve your ability to listen, then one easy tool is to challenge yourself to ask more questions that:
- Are open-ended
- Start with “What” or “How”
- Are short and simple
- Open up a wider range of possibility
- Lead to new insights
- Invite people to look within or to the future
As you interact with your team, create opportunities to listen before you speak and notice what impact that has. We would love you to share stories about how listening before you speak as served you as a leader.