My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry … (James 1:19)
Listening is one of the most important of all leadership skills. The wise leader will be able to declare the words of Elihu:
I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention … (Job 32:11-12)
The Bible declares that one who is wise is one who listens.
For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food. Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good. (Job 34:3-4)
The unwise leader, on the other hand, will fulfill the proverb:
He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
An unending parade of relational conflict and unnecessary organizational errors will follow the leader who is not a good listener.
God Himself is One who listens!
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” (Exodus 3:7)
In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came to His ears. (2 Samuel 22:7)
This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles … The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry … The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:6, 15, 17)
You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry … (Psalm 10:17)
Like God, effective leaders have always been good listeners. Moreover, skills of perception and discernment are even more important for leaders today since the technological revolution has forced us all to cope daily with massive amounts of information. We must first know accurately what actually is being said, before we can use any of it effectively.
There is no shortage of people to listen to. The leader must listen carefully to:
- Those to whom he is accountable (his leaders).
- Those who are accountable to him (his followers). Since a healthy organization is characterized by responsibility and initiative at every level (Eph. 4:16), it is especially important that leaders listen effectively to the people in their own organizations, including those who may be “under” them.
- Other leaders (his peers).
In the past, many people have assumed that listening is basically the same as hearing, and that it comes naturally and instinctively to all of us. Because of these dangerous misconceptions, many leaders make little effort to learn or develop their listening skills and unknowingly neglect a vital part of communication.
The importance of listening is seen in the fact that we spend 70% of our waking hours in verbal communication, and of all the time we spend in communication, the greatest is spent in listening. The average person spends about 40% of his communication time in listening. This means that over a quarter of one’s waking time is spent listening!
Consider this: over a quarter of a leader’s waking time is spent listening!
In addition, listening is the channel used most often for learning. As a method of receiving information, listening is used far more often than reading.
In view of these facts, we might hope that our leaders today would be good listeners. But, sadly, this is not the case. On average, people are only about 35% effective as listeners. This means they overlook, do not understand, or change the intended purpose of what they hear most of the time!
This lack of effective listening by leaders causes many unnecessary problems such as: misunderstandings, hurt feelings, damaged relationships, confused instructions, loss of important information, poor decision-making, embarrassment, frustration, loss of initiative and innovation, and ineffectiveness.
On the other hand, when leaders listen well, there are many good things that happen:
- Cooperation is increased. True listening assumes the other person has value, dignity and something to offer. People who know they are valued will be more positive toward working with their leaders.
- Better decisions are made. Listening to others gives leaders the information they need to make appropriate decisions, while listening to themselves gives leaders the ability to choose their responses rather than reacting automatically.
- Wise counsel can be given. Only when the situation has truly been understood, can a leader offer effective instruction and advice (Prov. 15:23).
- Conflict is avoided. By responding to reality, rather than to his own emotions or misconceptions, the listening leader will prevent unnecessary relational troubles. In addition, when people know they are genuinely being listened to, their frustration or anger will be calmed (Prov. 15:1).
- Stress is reduced. Both the leader and the people will experience less stress in their relationships and their work when they listen effectively. Listeners are influential people. How many times have you been affected by how a person listened to you? How do you feel when listeners are not paying attention to you but look at their watches, do some other activity or do not acknowledge what you say? Listeners have a lot more influence on the speaker than many people realize.
- Costly errors are prevented. Leaders who do not listen properly are prone to making wrong decisions. Many crises occur simply because problems weren’t identified in time; sadly, leaders often have been informed of these problems but did not listen. How often have you heard someone say, in frustration, “I told him that, but he did not listen”?
- People are more open to new ideas. When they know their leaders genuinely listen to them, people will be considerably more open to change.
- Learning is improved. Listening is one of the principal ways we learn; as our listening ability improves, we learn more.
- There is more responsibility and creativity throughout the organization. When someone knows he is talking to a listener rather than a boss who sits in judgment, he will openly suggest ideas and share feelings. When this happens, the two can work as a team and creatively solve problems instead of placing blame on each other.
- Everyone’s effectiveness increases.
Listening is not the same as hearing. Listening involves a more sophisticated mental process than hearing. It requires energy and discipline.
Effective leaders are effective listeners!
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