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The most important leadership skill: listening

Posted almost 6 years ago by Rob Markwell
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We’ve all heard the saying ‘people join a business but leave their manager’. In this digital era of information overload and ever-increasingly short attention span engaging with your team is absolutely essential, thus making listening the single most crucial skill that any manager must master.

In a leadership role where you are constantly multi-tasking and fire-fighting, it’s very easy to simply tell or dictate what needs to be done with your team, without stopping to value their input. It takes discipline to take yourself away from that one-way communication mind-set and in to one of true two-way engagement.

Employees want to be heard and respected; listening and taking on board their opinions shows genuine respect for their views and builds trust between you and them. This in turn leads to a more motivated and committed team – and you’d be surprised how much insight you can get in to your own business when you make the effort to invest in building those lines of communication.

Firstly you must remember that you employ people and not robots. Taking a genuine interest in them as individuals and understanding what makes them tick is not only about building strong relationships, it helps you to understand how best to communicate with that person in order to get their best output of activity for the business – one size does not fit all.

Some managers’ fear that being “too engaged” can blur the authority of management, concerned that it panders too much to the needs of the employees, thereby detracting from commercial performance and what the business as a whole needs. It is a fine balance but engaging and truly listening does not need to be all consuming, nor take responsibility away from the employees, in fact it tends to be quite the opposite.

If you have found yourself in a vicious circle of telling your team what to do, you are essentially preventing them from thinking for themselves and simultaneously encouraging them to consistently seek your guidance on the smallest of things. By taking the time to coach, educate and empower them means that they will learn to source answers themselves, using their initiative instead of relying on your ever-ready suggestions.

This will lead to a more autonomous and motivated team who “think” for themselves and rather than come to you with a problem, come to you with ideas, solutions and insight which you’re not always best placed – nor always have the time, to spot.

This kind of investment in opening those communications channels not only means happier and more valued employees, it ultimately makes you a richer and far more competent leader.

Under pressure it’s very easy to slip back into habits of old so given the great value of truly engaging with your staff, a question to be constantly asking yourself – am I taking the time to listen?

As Steve Jobs put it: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”.