• Cat Graham

The Art of Active Listening

Successful practitioners become managers; successful managers become leaders. Leaders have had the experience to lead, and in general, were promoted to leadership roles because they know what to do. This has created a corporate myth that leaders have to have the answers. While many leaders rely on key advisors and socialize concepts prior to implementing them, many leaders have forgotten one of the most important skills in leadership - active listening.

Active listening takes a conscious effort. It requires being present, avoiding distractions and taking in what people are saying and how they are saying it. You are only as good as your team, and your team has important things to say. Not every leader will get organic feedback, so you need to be prepared with prompts in order to promote and begin valuable two-way dialogues.

I often tell newly minted leaders to meet with their team and ask each person to share who they are. Leaving this open-ended allows the team to share something personal or professional. The bond you make with your team fortifies your ability to really hear them. Some other good questions to promote two-way dialogue:

  • What’s going well for you and your team this week?

  • Where are you stuck?

  • What can I do to help you be more successful?

  • How are you feeling at work lately?

  • What’s the best thing that happened to you this week, either at work or outside of it?

  • If you owned the company, what’s one thing you would do differently?

  • What were some great contributions made by other team members recently?

  • What do you need from me as a leader?

Active listening builds trust and establishes rapport. Demonstrating concern when someone comes to you with an issue shows they matter. To comprehend what your team member is saying, give them your undivided attention, acknowledge what they are saying and respond thoughtfully. Leaders need to show they are listening by using their body language to demonstrate engagement such as nodding, eye contact and leaning forward. Let your team member know that you will wait to speak and defer judgment by actively listening.

When it comes to enacting positive change, leaders are most effective when they’re aware of what’s really going on around them. So, practice active listening and become a more effective leader.