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4 tips for becoming a better leader by becoming a better listener

When Tom Peters speaks, I listen. His book Re-imagine! was the first business book to truly capture my imagination and ignite the engines. It changed my world. I only wish I’d followed his advice more than I have.

In his latest book, The Excellence Dividend, Peters is once again taking the business world’s temperature, gathering its best thinking, and delivering his take on all of it—with his usual insight and wit. The end result is packaged in the sort of utter simplicity that makes it accessible and actionable. It’s a book that meets you where you are. I’ll come back to it again and again.

At New Kind, we see a future of purpose-driven organizations shaped by new kinds of leaders. Such leaders will focus on culture rather than structure, they’ll be gifted coachescurious and humble. And they’ll understand how to ask for, receive, and give genuine feedback. The Excellence Dividend is brimming with great advice for this new breed of business leaders.

One such piece of advice from Peters: “Listening is strategy.” We at New Kind wholeheartedly agree.

Those who would lead in today’s world must develop the sort of deep listening skills Peters describes. Leaders who listen foster trust in the workplace—because a thriving, innovative workforce is built on a foundation of openness and trust.

So, what does it mean to really listen? Listening is not passive. Listening is active. As always, Peters advises us to be bold and suggests we practice what he calls “Fierce listening. Aggressive listening.”

Below are four tips for how to become a better listener. Remember, this will be a lifelong journey. Just when you think you’ve mastered it, there will be more to learn and deeper depths to explore.


1. Engage with the other person like you’re the only two people in the universe.

Think of a time when you were truly heard—a time you were listened to without prejudice or agenda on the part of the person “listening.” When you knew they believed in you and wanted the best for you. When you felt understood.

If you’re like most of us, this experience is a rare but transformative occurrence. You’re likely to remember a conversation with a relative or very close friend.

For me, it’s my grandmother, Sadie. Her focus was totally on me. She believed in me. And she didn’t judge. When she offered advice, I knew her focus was on me and my life. Her belief in me fed my own confidence and created a special relationship between the two of us.

This tends to be universal. When you invest in listening to someone on a deep, selfless level, the other person begins to see you as a highly valued person in their own life. They trust and believe in you as you do them. That trust and belief forms the foundation of confidence and inspiration to help carry them forward even in the face of significant obstacles.

So, when you’re the listener, commit to listening to that person with everything you have. As if the two of you are the only people in the universe. Be comfortable with long moments of silence. Quiet your inner dialogue, and trust that when the time comes for you to speak you’ll know exactly what to say.


2. Believe in that person

Remember that the person in front of you is not broken. They’re not weak. They don’t need you to rescue them or solve their problem. They’re smart, creative, resourceful, and fully capable human beings. See them that way.

Resist the urge to fix them or solve their problem. Doing so is the true sign of respect and compassion. As a leader you want your people to feel respected, creative, and capable. Treat them the way you want them to feel.


3. W.A.I.T.

I forget who shared this acronym with me. And I usually dislike acronyms. But this one is the perfect exception to the rule. WAIT before you speak by asking yourself, “Why Am I Talking?”

Often we talk to sound smart or profound. Or to nervously end a silence. Sometimes we just want the person to like us. Or perhaps they’ve reminded us of a story that we now want to share. Sounds innocent enough—and we may even tell ourselves we’re showing empathy. But are we just making ourselves the center of the universe? WAIT.


4. Know that listening is a gift

We’ve heard that feedback is a gift. And that’s certainly true. But even more so if the person giving feedback has listened in a selfless way. Deep listening is a blessing with or without feedback.  

Begin each morning by taking a moment to remind yourself that you could change someone’s life for the better—simply because you took the time and expended the energy to really believe in them, stay quiet, and truly listen.

Mastery of listening is a lifelong journey. It demands commitment, faith, and discipline. And a level of self-awareness not often expected by more traditional models of leadership. As Peters puts it, “I firmly believe that if, after a half-hour conversation, you are not exhausted, you were not seriously/fiercely/aggressively listening.”  

Each of these four tips is deep and wide. But I hope they inspire you to take the first step.

It’s work. But it’s worth it.

As a leadership coach, I work every day with individuals and teams to help identify their purpose, create a vision of where they want to go, and develop practical plans for achieving their goals—in business, as well as in life.

If you’d like to learn more, get in touch today and let’s schedule a time to talk—and to listen.

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