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Great Leaders Are Listeners, not Talkers
Active listening is an essential leadership skill that allows leaders to learn the truth, influence reports, and make solid decisions. Mastering active listening can be challenging, but leadership and business coaching can help leaders realize its power and tame its caprices. Genuine curiosity is one of the keys to active listening.
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway.
Most people don’t listen. While a lack of listening skills does no favors, it doesn’t make most people’s existences impossible. Leadership coaching professionals can’t afford the dubious “luxury” of not listening. Active listening is as important a skill for leadership coaches as it is for leaders.
From the perspective of leadership coaching, active listening is an underrated leadership skill. It’s not as spectacular as making top-notch decisions in the heat of the battle or rallying the troops when the odds are against them, yet listening makes much of what a leader has to accomplish possible.
Active listening enables leaders to lead.
The Challenges of Active Listening
Whether we like it or not, we spend significant parts of our lives listening. Hearing someone talk is not active listening, however. Of all the things we hear during the course of our lives, we remember but a fraction. The rest escapes us as we aren’t actively listening or seeking to truly understand what people tell us.
Active listening is an intentional exercise. It requires training; it’s a skill that leaders can develop with the help of executive coaching.
“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” – Dean Jackson.
The reason active listening is difficult is nature hasn’t “programmed” us for it. When we speak, we utter about 125 words every minute. As long as we’re saying something interesting, others have no problems listening to us. Our minds can process more data much faster than that, however. As soon as the brain doesn’t deem what we hear vitally important, the mind wanders off.
Using its superior processing abilities, it tricks us into believing we’re still listening while we ponder other things.
In our increasingly self-centered world, we condition our minds to deem data about others “unimportant.” We’re so focused on our egos that we only care about stroking them by talking, so we only listen to “earn the right” to talk. That’s far from active listening.
The Art of Active Listening
One of the top priorities of executive coaching is to impart to leaders the art of active listening.
Effective listening requires focused attention, patience, presence, and persistence. Leaders can master this art through intentional practice. When they do, they become more empathetic, inspirational, motivating, and effective. Here’s what you can do to improve your active listening abilities.
Being present in a conversation requires leaders to surrender their needs to judge and fix things. Full presence means full focus, and the mind’s chatter is put to rest. People can sense the presence of their interlocutor in a conversation; they perceive this presence as a gift from the other person.
Diverting Your Focus from Responding
Often, our need to formulate a response impairs our ability to listen. We don’t listen to learn something. We listen to glean the information we can use to respond, thus fulfilling a perceived responsibility.
A practical way to override this natural need is to put off responding. Make up your mind that you’re not going to respond. Just listen and respond later. Digest the input you receive from others and schedule an appointment later to address the issues.
Business coaching requires coaches to spark revelations in clients by asking questions. By engaging in a session of active listening interspersed with questions, leaders get to shape their interlocutors’ thoughts, echo their feelings, and fill in the gaps.
Curiosity is the key to active listening.
Every leadership journey reaches a level that requires leaders to empower, engage, motivate, and develop their reports. Active listing is an essential coaching and leadership tool to achieve these objectives.