Leaders Listen
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Listening has become one of the key skillsets for leaders at all levels of successful businesses today.  To be a great leader it is important to become a great listener.  Most of us can remember a time when key leaders were those who could speak to whatever the situation at hand demanded.  It was how a leader presented their ideas and persuaded others that often signaled the success of the leader.  Today, speaking too much – even if it’s well said and important – can get a leader into serious trouble.

In a fast-paced, technology fueled world, information and knowledge grow at an exponential rate—it’s very difficult to even keep up with it.  Computers and algorithms are needed just to assemble, decode, and realize the true potential of what is being discovered and disseminated.  Inevitably, leaders will fall behind in what is known and even knowable.

So, what is a leader to do?  Listen.  When leaders spend more of their time listening they learn the key issues and challenges their teams and organizations face.  They learn what is important to others.  They get to ask key questions – without giving their insights – until they know the context of the discussion.  A leader can be thoughtful in their approach and offer specific insights of their own.  A leader can then advance new questions and thoughts that help their teams devise even better solutions than the leader could recommend on their own.  How do I know?  I have seen this in action.

As I look back to my mentors and the leadership experiences of my past, I can see a pattern that was usually present.  The best leaders I have had were great listeners.  How can you tell if someone is a great listener? They ask thoughtful and meaningful questions that get to the heart of an issue or challenge.  Their teams feel heard and respected and engaged.  People leave meetings not only informed, but energized and better prepared for the next steps needed.

My mother has a wonderful saying that I use to remind myself to listen more and listen better:   “Randy, there is a reason that God gave you two ears and only one mouth.”  I would smile whenever she would say it – and realized that I should be listening twice as much as I was speaking.  It’s still a good leadership principle today.

So, what is your speaking to listening ratio?  What would it say to your teammates if you listened more and asked more questions?  How might people feel about meetings and other joint tasks if there was more listening going on?  Do you have a “rule of thumb” for how you listen and engage with others as a leader?  I am convinced that great leaders listen.  I know it is something I am working on.  How about you?