Active Listening: The Greatest Skill by Heather R Younger

By Heather Younger | October 14, 2021

"Nonetheless, I must recommit to seeking to understand those around me before taking any action. The caring leader does this and then reflects on what he or she hears."

Listening and Leadership

The mark of a good leader is one who is caring. I define caring leadership as “taking daily actions in ways that show concern and kindness to those we lead”. At the core of being a good, caring leader, lies the crucial skill of listening. Leaders in any walk of life, whether extensively trained, or called on to lead in a passing moment, all seek to possess a deep understanding of the people they lead or the problem they seek to resolve. The best path to gain this understanding is via listening. Listening is the express lane that takes you straight to your desired destination while avoiding the obstacles and roadblocks that delay the flow of traffic.

Listening and Employee Engagement

If leaders focus on staying in the listening express lane, they will coincidentally build up a culture of listening within their organizations. I want to include an excerpt from my latest book, The Art of Caring Leadership, to reveal my own personal testimony on the effects of listening in my leadership role.

“Personally, I move very fast in and out of projects and even in and out of thoughts. Sometimes, this makes those around me feel that they are not a part of the process. Often, I feel myself going into hyperdrive. Then I slow myself down and begin to see the others who are with me on this journey. I know that I need to include their voices and their input.

I am not always great at executing on that. I continue to work on this, and because it is so important to me, I make it a priority. Nonetheless, I must recommit to seeking to understand those around me before taking any action. The caring leader does this and then reflects on what he or she hears (92).”

I have listened to tens of thousands of employee survey comments, and worked with countless organizations to build cultures of listening. Once a sturdy culture of listening takes root within an organization, every time without fail, their employee engagement numbers soar. Loyalty and buy-in reach peaks, and consequently, happy employees mean successful business.

An article entitled, “The Power of Listening” by Forbes, states:

Effective active listening within an organizational setting has been shown to produce a wide range of positive benefits for companies, leaders and individuals, such as: (1) building stronger relationships, (2) developing greater trust, (3) more effective team collaborations, (4) enhanced individual and group decision-making, (5) greater productivity and (6) enhanced creativity and innovation.

Clearly, the list of positive effects of listening is extensive within an organization. But, the simple yet powerful strategy of active listening extends far beyond the reaches of your workplace.

Let me tell you a story.

Listening in Customer Engagement

I once served as a leader in client development, which meant I worked in our sales department. One day, I heard that one of our biggest clients was significantly unhappy with the process we were using which had been established by our leadership team. This was a two-million-dollar client on the verge of leaving because they were dissatisfied with one of our systems and processes. Were we going to cling to our rule book and run the risk of losing this valuable client? Not on my watch. I took my understanding of the client’s needs to my leadership. I knew there was the chance they wouldn’t listen to me or take the situation seriously, but I owed the client at least a shot at positive change.

However, it did go well. I got leadership’s attention and we began the process of changing our strategy. We even included the client in our roundtables and redesign project. Their voices guided us to our solution. Because we brought in the client and welcomed them to our table and acted on their word, they felt valued and decided to rely on us even more heavily. They became an even bigger client of ours. This all began with the listening process.

Listening and Relationships

Listening is not only the crux of caring leadership, it must be the foundation of any relationship. For example, active listening is singlehandedly the most powerful tactic a salesperson can wield. When we tune into the needs and desires of those we serve, whether they be our superiors, peers, direct reports clients, or people in our personal lives, we will see a direct return on our relationships.

This story illustrates how I felt confident enough that I would be listened to within my organization to bring forward a crucial piece of information from our client. I caused disruption and change, but I also caused us to increase our revenue and build a stronger relationship with our client. I knew my organization would listen to its employees. I listened to our client, and our sales process was transformed to always involve a listening step to better work with each client’s specific needs.

I encourage anyone reading this to take listening to the next level, whether that be in their personal relationships, with their employees or with their customers. There are no negative side effects when it comes to listening. Merge into that express lane and steer your organization towards listening and towards greatness.

Buy Heather's book today, "The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations" 

 

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