Workplace Wisdom

How to Listen So You Can Connect as a Leader

As a new leader, you’ve begun getting to know your followers, whether they actually report to you or are constituents of your organization. You might even be starting to feel more comfortable in your leadership role.

If you’re looking for the most powerful “glue” of connection, you can achieve it with anyone, anytime — you are always equipped. Your long-term success depends on that connection, because here’s the second rule of the connected leader: You have to listen, with focus and intent.

Listening is both a skill and an art, and it can be quite difficult to do. Why should you bother to master listening? Because listening accomplishes two crucial jobs of leadership:

Listen so others feel heard. Unless your followers truly believe you want to hear from them, only the courageous and the oppositional will speak up. For now, you are listening simply to make a connection, to be joined to your followers by the equivalent of an aural tractor beam, to demonstrate that you can work together because you are together. Later, you can teach your followers the most effective ways to make a report with you, present a case, etc.

Listen so you can learn. Learn what others understand, what concerns them, and what they care about. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, where the potholes and pitfalls are — or where people believe or fear that they are. You’ll have an early warning system, find out who craves attention and connection, and start to understand why they respond to you the way they do. You’ll find out who has just been waiting for you to come along to create a new and better game, one that lets them play full out, that lets them shine. You’ll discover who has been waiting for a real partner.

Deep Listening

How can you accomplish listening on such a deep level?

Stop moving around so much. Don’t turn your head away from the person who is talking to you to look at your computer screen when an email comes in, or at your phone when it pings. Don’t fuss with your papers. If you’re standing, don’t back away or turn sideways as if you’re trying to make an escape.

Don’t answer your own questions. Don’t interrupt, talk over, or complete what other people are trying to say, not with words, and not with facial expressions or gestures. Let other people express and complete their thoughts before you share yours.

Forget the open door policy — at least temporarily. An open door policy doesn’t matter if there’s no room for conversation on your calendar in the first place. And in the second place, you need to go where the people are and not wait for them to come to you. Being connected is not about you. It’s about your ability to make room for other people, to show them that there’s time and space for them because you’re extending a relationship to them.

Per Rule 1, you worked on getting to know your followers. With Rule 2, you’ll learn to hear them better. Next week, for Rule 3, we’ll look at how to handle what they have to say.

Onward and upward,

LK

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