Active listening is a critical part of being a successful leader. The FBI explains that “active listening involves six skills—paying attention, holding judgment, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing, and sharing.” Better understanding helps leaders communicate well and make good decisions. While listening and absorbing non-verbal communication, you learn so much more. If while someone is speaking your attention wanders, you miss valuable information.
The most influential leaders in history share two traits: confidence and integrity. They do not need to be the center of attention. They often speak less and listen more. Some of them speak very little and when they do they talk slowly and deliberately, measuring every word. Personal integrity comes from a place of innate confidence and the desire to be your best even when no one else is watching. Good leaders possess strong integrity.
There is a big difference between leadership and management. Management refers to someone who is responsible for a group of people who are aligned with a common goal or task. Leadership, however, is less easily defined. It refers to motivation, inspiration and a method of interacting with others that contributes to them achieving a goal. People choose to follow a leader; they are forced to follow management.
One of the most significant differences between leadership and management is empathy. Leaders understand the feelings, desires, and motivations of others and use that in how they teach, learn, and lead. Empathy builds trust. Effective leaders also communicate well, with balanced listening and speaking. We often view leaders as people at the podium giving speeches. In reality, great leaders are softly listening and gathering facts and information to help others achieve their goals.
Leaders also motivate through positive feedback and encouragement. They often inspire others and drive them to dig deeper and give more of themselves than they usually would. Steve Jobs is an excellent example of this. He inspired world-changing inventions and extracted more from his team than they thought possible.
Sometimes when teams get together to work on a project, some members don’t feel that they are being heard. A good leader will use active listening skills to ensure all members have a voice. The active listener will interject deliberate pauses to give the other person the space to respond or add more detail. Team leaders will also use open-ended questions to promote thoughtful and detailed responses.
Active listening indicates that you are interested in the conversation and want to hear all the person has to say. You do not appear hurried, and they do not feel rushed. Active listeners also use emotional labeling to assign attributes to the information they hear. Active listening is highly effective in law enforcement when officers are interviewing subjects after an incident.
Everyone is different and successful leaders know this and avoid passing judgment on other people’s behavior or comments as they communicate with them. Active listening is a skill you can learn. Highly successful people are great listeners, and you will see them embody these traits during interactions with others.
Not only are great leaders respected, but they also show genuine respect for others, and this helps to build trust and foster healthy communication. Genuinely caring about others is a hallmark trait of an exceptional leader. When you care, you tend to show more interest, listen more effectively, and consider everyone’s feelings when making decisions.
Excellent listening skills and empathy are not just for face-to-face communication. In our modern world, much of our interaction is through digital means. You can use these same traits and techniques with email, texting, message boards, and video conferencing. Devote all of your attention to the conversation even through digital contact. Multitasking is not helpful when trying to be a good listener.
The more you use active listening and empathy in your conversations, you will learn what works well and what does not. You can then translate those same successful habits into digital interaction as well. You can continuously improve how well you listen and relate to other people. The great thing about being a leader is that you have room to grow and gain knowledge and expertise all along the way.
Leadership is not a science but an art that you can learn to emulate. All you need to do is cultivate your listening and empathy skills and then start to motivate and inspire people to greatness.
By Noah Rue
Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, an ESL teacher, and an all around good dude, if he doesn’t say so himself.