According to Ben Simonton, your most important leadership skill is listening. It is a key to understanding other people, and learning how to influence them in a way that they stay motivated. Listening skills are important in every position, but great leaders are usually good at paying attention to their followers’ motivations, preferences, cultural diversity, and concerns. Managers can only gain commitment from colleagues for new initiatives and projects if they can answer the question: ‘what is in it for me?’. Without actively listening to workers, leaders cannot create the answers that employees are looking for. Below you will find some tips on how to use your most important leadership skills to improve your team’s performance and get people to support your projects. Also read about becoming a leader.
See Also: How Do You Become a Leader?
1. Embrace Different Views
A good leader listens to people by embracing difference of opinion, instead of seeking confrontation. Instead of telling people what to do, a good leader helps aligning their professional goals with their followers’. This is the reason why listening skills are extremely important. When learning about the life of different employees, the manager will understand more about their personality and motivations. When creating a project, involving people from different backgrounds in the brainstorming sessions will result in employees feeling respected and appreciated. They will feel like they are getting their voices heard, and therefore will become more committed to the project. Handling objectives is difficult when dealing with a diverse team, however, listening can help. Likewise, encouraging creativity instead of oppressing it will help individuals grow up to the task, and help developing a plan that is supported and accepted by all workers. Holding debates about different issues and allowing team members to come up with different solutions will also promote positive work ethics.
2. Value Diversity
Valuing diversity is one of the best ways of gaining commitment from all employees and getting a new perspective of the issues the team is dealing with. While not all workplaces can be culturally relevant for everyone, employees’ different experiences at work and in life situations will help create a plan that will make working together easier. Instead of excluding members based on their different views, lifestyle, age, or sexual orientation, it is important to learn about and from them. A member of a sales team might be able to come up with an excellent idea about promoting for LBGT clients, based on their sexual orientation. However, if the manager fails to listen to them, they will simply exclude their helpful ideas from the pool of solutions. Encouraging communication between new and experienced members of staff will fulfill both groups’ aspirations: experienced staff will feel respected by being asked to support new staff, and recently recruited workers will see an opportunity to improve their skills.
3. Become a Democratic Leader
A recent business case study has revealed that democratic leaders are encouraging personal and professional development in order to achieve better team performance. As the case study based on the London luxury store, Harrods’ leadership revealed,
Employees are listened to and their advice and ideas are used to make continuous improvements."
Continuous improvements translate to better performance, higher job satisfaction, and improved work morale. Just like other features of effective leadership, this approach also starts and ends with listening to employees. Holding meetings regularly to learn about the latest challenges team members face is important. Meetings, however, should not be ‘held’ by the manager, but organized by them. The leader can outline the topic and ask for input from all team members, making sure that all voices are heard. He or she can also put together a team that supports him in particular projects.
4. Ask for Feedback
One of the best ways of involving employees in leadership and making the workplace more democratic is asking for feedback. While this practice is mostly used by new managers, it is also useful for those who are looking to adapt to a new environment, or are facing challenges due to the changing business environment. Managers can distribute anonymous feedback forms after meetings, presentations, and learn more about the preferences of their employees. Listening and getting to know more about those we work with provides leaders with valuable information. Feedback on completed projects and teamwork could also help designing collaboration networks for the future. Learning about what team members find easy at work and what they find challenging will also help designing a training program that benefits all individuals and improves the overall performance of the business unit.
5. Involve Employees to Increase Their Commitment
One of the most effective ways of listening to employees and finding out more about their strengths and weaknesses is involving them in projects. Democratic leaders set up working groups or project teams that support him in different initiatives. As an example, if one of the employees has complained about the slow delivery times provided by the supplier, the leader can ask them during a meeting to make suggestions. They can come up with ideas, and form a team that researches alternative solutions, reporting back to the leader. This will do two different things: sending the message out to employees that they are welcome to express their concerns, and make them feel valued, being given the opportunity to improve their leadership skills. The leader will benefit from this collaboration in two ways, as well. He or she will get to know the team members, and can spend time on other leadership-related tasks, instead of having to deal with the issue from the beginning.
6. Become the Role Model
Leaders must clearly communicate their goals, visions, and missions in order to engage their followers. However, a vision and mission that employees cannot relate to will not be very effective. This is why many transformational leaders do not create visions and missions on their own. They first listen to their workers, get their views, and involve them in developing a shared vision that is well aligned with their personal goals, motivations, and preferences. Leaders, however, need to ensure that they live by their own principles, and show a good example. Becoming a role model will come naturally, and followers will become committed to goals that they helped creating and can relate to. A leader should only expect employees to embrace principles if he or she also lives by them. A shared goal and clear direction will encourage employees to actively take part in projects, and improve their skills to support the team. This way, discourse within the group will become more effective, and productivity will improve, making it easier to achieve goals and targets set together.
Learning about people’s personal goals, aspirations, and preferences is one of the most valuable leadership skills that can turn unproductive teams into a group of top performers. Effective communication begins with active listening. A leader who tries to understand employees’ personal motivations and career goals can create a shared vision that everyone can relate to. Embracing diversity and celebrating ideas will encourage communication, and help achieving targets easier. The secret of utilizing listening as the most effective leadership skill is to involve all employees in the process of decision-making, project development, and seeking feedback. However, without being able to become a role model for followers, a leader cannot influence team behavior. This is why true managers try to understand what type of support their employees expect them to provide them.
Do you agree that the most important leadership skill is listening? If not, why? Let us know in the comments section below.