In Change, Leaders

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” – Doug Larson

I Googled “leadership” this morning and got 451 million hits. If you read any business publications or blogs or watch any TED talks you know people everywhere are talking about leadership. We spend endless hours studying successful leaders hoping to find some life-altering nugget of information. We go to conferences, buy books, spend who knows how much money – all in the name of improving our leadership skills.

And in the world we’re currently living in, leadership is crucial. The world is volatile and unpredictable. Massive generational shifts are underway. Technology is entering every part of our lives faster than ever before. How we handle all of these things as leaders is critical to the success of our organizations.

So what skills do we need? We glorify any number things we see in our leaders. We like our leaders to have vision. We like our leaders to be great communicators. We like our leaders to have lots of energy. We praise leaders who are great problem solvers. And all those things are valuable.

But one of the most important skills for any great leader is the ability to listen. To some people that sounds counterintuitive. Our leaders are supposed to be confident and virtually all-knowing. Yet in the world we’re in today, listening is more important than ever.

There are too many things coming at us too fast to know how to handle them all ourselves. We have to have help from great people around us. And if we want to use great people, we have to listen to what they have to say. How can you possibly leverage the abilities or your people if they never have any input?

“But our people need to have confidence in my leadership,” I hear people say. “They expect me to have answers.” Actually, they already know you don’t have all the answers. If you don’t believe that, put a hidden tape recorder in your break room and listen to what they’re saying about you. J People want to follow someone who’s genuine. If you’re too full of yourself (or too lacking in self-confidence) to listen to those around you, it’s an instant turnoff. Your people will see through that in a second.

Listening is too seldom mentioned as critical to success. But it’s as important as any other skill a leader can have. Without listening you never improve. And with all the change we’re faced with every day, we have to be constantly improving. If we aren’t, we’ll be obsolete leaders in no time.

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