There is one leadership skill that will influence your overall success more than any other. If you develop it well, your potential grows enormously—but if you don’t bother to learn it can end up costing you a great deal.
Most people agree on the surface of it: That to become a truly great leader is to become a truly great listener. Pressed to define what makes a great listener, many will say the ability to be silent.
But being silent is not going to make you into a great communicator or a better leader. Instead, follow this simple six-step strategy and L-I-S-T-E-N:
L = Look interested and get interested.
When someone is speaking, signal your interest with your expression and body language—and then get genuinely interested in what they are saying. Think about the motivations and reasons behind their words. In other words, pay attention. Listen in a way that tells them not only that you’re interested but also that they are interesting.
I = Involve yourself only if you’re asked to respond.
Too often instead of genuinely listening, we’re mentally lining up what we want to say next. Instead, train yourself to speak only when you’re asked a direct question. Then respond with empathy and let the clear attention you were able to give as you were listening inform your answer. Learn to listen in the moment without moving ahead.
S = Stay on target.
Listening is a powerfully efficient act, but it’s easy to fall off track. Most of us have an inclination to want to take over, to fix problems, to come up with quick solutions. But the true essence of listening is to stay on target—to be focused on what the speaker needs, not what you think they need. Successful leaders maintain that focus no matter what is going on around them.
T = Test your understanding.
Never pretend to know what you don’t know. We shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask and learn from people, and we should listen carefully to the views of others so we can always speak and act from understanding and empathy. Understanding runs much deeper than knowledge. Many people know a lot, but there are few who understand well. Always remain a student more than a teacher and keep an open mind no matter how much you know. Listen beyond what people say to understand what they mean.
E = Evaluate the message.
We must be silent before we can listen, we must listen before we can learn, we must learn before we can evaluate, we must evaluate before we can assist, and we must assist before we can lead. When it comes to listening and evaluating the message, check in from time to time and ask yourself what it means. Listen to the words that aren’t spoken; listen to understand the silences and the pauses. Make a conscious effort to evaluate the words and context as fully as possible.
N = Neutralize your reactions.
Suspend thought and judgment and allow yourself to just listen and absorb. An essential part of true listening is the discipline of neutralizing your reactions and tempering your feelings. That means setting aside any of your own prejudices, frames of reference or desires to allow yourself to experience the speaker’s world with empathy. When you can neutralize your reactions, the speaker and listener can move into mutual appreciation and true success can be achieved.
Don’t be silent for the sake of listening; listen for the sake of understanding.
Lead from Within: before you talk, listen. Before you react, think. Before you fix, elevate. Before you lead, learn.
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Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.