By Allison O'Brien
When I hear someone proclaim they are a good listener, I take a pause.
“We can’t anoint ourselves as great listeners,” explained Michael Reddington in a recent interview with Forbes. “Only those around us—our family, coworkers, friends, and acquaintances—can entrust us with the title.”
Picture someone in your life who you consider to be a good listener. Can you describe the specific behaviors they exhibit during a conversation? It’s likely you notice:
The people we consider to be good listeners leave us feeling heard. And at our core, humans long to feel heard and understood. But how can we know if the people we are listening to actually feel heard? To truly gauge the quality of our own listening, we have to ask our conversational partners for their honest assessment.
It’s a similar situation with leadership.
I am a bit wary of the person who proclaims themselves to be a great leader. Only those we lead, manage, or mentor can speak to the quality of our leadership. The reasons someone would consider you a great leader are similar to the items on the good listener list. They believe:
Countless studies prove the quality of the leader determines the level of engagement of the individual and the productivity of the team. Goodhire recently surveyed 3,000 full-time employees to understand this relationship. They found that 82% of employees surveyed said they would consider quitting their job because of poor leadership. In another study, 65% of employees would take a better manager over a pay raise. This was validated in a 2021 Gallup poll, where findings proved it takes a 20% pay raise to lure an employee away from a manager who truly engages them, yet almost nothing to poach a disengaged employee.
Many of us want to lead. But a title isn’t enough. We have to be someone others want to follow. A crucial contributing factor to the perception of stellar leadership is a leader’s ability to communicate effectively. In a recent Interact/Harris Poll, 91% of 1,000 employees surveyed think that their leaders lack communication skills. When leaders are perceived as “bad” listeners, it directly impacts the bottom line with low engagement, high turnover, and workplace failures, costing companies between $450 and $550 billion annually. This is precisely why the most impactful skill a leader can develop is their listening.
Here are 3 ways to improve your leadership listening:
The qualities of good listening and great leadership share the same underlying themes. The most influential, trusted leaders are great listeners. They are present and deeply attentive to their conversational partners. They are genuinely interested and appreciate dialogue inspired by various perspectives. They are patient, remain present, and leave others with the most fundamental need and desire met—to be heard and understood.