[February 20, 2019] “Get that wax outta your ears!” My mother was fond of giving me advice that my other siblings seemed to never get. She would say, “You hear me but you don’t HEAR me.” She was telling me that to be a good son, I had to listen to understand; not just listen to her words.
And so it is with leaders. Leaders, to be good at what they do, must listen to understand where other people are coming from with what they say and do. It is more than words that have something to tell us; body language, voice inflection, what we wear and items we possess, and things we value … all communicate something about the person.1
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” – Roy T. Bennett, Ohio Congressman
To truly listen means to “see” all those things around that provide an understanding. Most leaders want to know more about others. Like many who read this leadership blog, I have found that the best leaders are truly interested in hearing what others have to say. They listen so to improve upon their leadership skills so, when the time comes, people will follow.
Leaders are busy people. Thus, we find those busy leaders often doing what is easy and expedient (we all do this) and also taking shortcuts. Who hasn’t had a boss acting bored when you are explaining a problem to him? My favorite was when a 3-star General fell asleep when I was telling him how we were avoiding illegal purchases of construction materials. They simply were not listening to understand.
Good listening is a highly refined skill. It is also very much valued. When I grew up, it was obvious to my mother that I lacked listening proficiency and she was determined, as the first born, to mold me into a good young man. I managed to improve but now my wife tells me to “stay focused.” Like me, we all have room for improvement.