The Best Leaders Listen
Updated: Nov 1, 2019
By: Elizabeth Mattern
In your lifetime, you may be presented with an opportunity that requires you to lead a team. The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of leader you want to be. To answer this question, the most logical thing would be to recall on past team experiences. What kind of leadership resonated with you? These experiences shape an individual’s leadership style. Poor leadership can result in teams crumbling and a lack of respect toward the leader. My exposure to great leadership has made me believe that the best leaders are those that listen. The ability to listen is a skill that is often overlooked. Not many people feel compelled to include listening skills on their resume or mention it in interviews. However, I believe it is a fundamental characteristic all leaders must possess.
I saw first-hand the effects that poor listening can have on a group when I was working as a camp counselor at an overnight summer camp this last summer. I had a group of wonderful, kind and energetic 9-year-olds, all eager about camp and connecting with the group and their counselors.
I will admit that in moments of weakness, patience sometimes dissipated among counselors. Exhaustion can get the best of people, but the result impacted the kids the most. When counselors would brush these kids off, I saw the look of defeat on their faces. Their spirits were crushed. Kids need to be heard, and when you silence a child, it affects their entire experience. The kids who were not listened to would immediately withdraw and their disappointment had a domino effect that spread to other campers.
Once I returned to school, I was more aware of the effects of listening because of my experience that summer. I noticed similarities of the effects of not listening were between my college peers and my 9-year-old campers. As a leader, when you choose to not hear someone or brush them off like their idea means nothing, you affect the entire group’s creative process. Not listening has a dehumanizing effect. It illegitimates a person’s creativity, which can result in a missed opportunity. Brushing off ideas robs yourself of an idea that can resonate with a diverse audience.
I began an internship my junior year working as an assistant for the busiest woman I know. On top of her long list of responsibilities, I noticed she always made time to listen. I’ve witnessed people pop up in her office unannounced seeking advice. My supervisor would look away from her laptop, move her phone aside and spin her chair to face the visitor, giving them her undivided attention. As her assistant, I knew the long list of things she needed to complete before the end of the workday, but outsiders would never know based off her ability to listen and respond with intention and sincerity. She taught me that people and groups cannot achieve success if they are silenced.
If listening was valued as much as communication and technical skills, we could solve a lot of the world’s problems. When you choose to not listen to someone, you rob yourself of learning from their experiences and creativity. You negatively impact your team’s ability to collaborate, and collaboration is vital in solving problems. In my experience, leaders listen. They give everyone a chance to be heard before speaking themselves. Listening is a great way for leaders to validate individual team members. It doesn’t matter if you are a 9-year-old or an adult; it is human nature to need to be heard. Leaders should frequently work to improve their listening skills so they can create the open environment on which problem solving thrives.