A friend was once summoned to a meeting with a dozen other managers. The only item on the agenda was to review a project. The leader prefaced the meeting by saying everyone could speak their minds and suggestions were welcome. Over the next 90 minutes several team members, including my friend, raised their voices and proposed some changes. However, the manager dismissed each one, sometimes contemptuously.
The result was that people quickly got the message: this guy wasn’t really interested in ideas –  his mind was closed.
It’s not surprising that listening is one of the most desirable qualities in a leader. Sadly, too many leaders love the sound of their own voices, are easily distracted when others speak, or think too highly of themselves and too little of others.
And we’re bad listeners. According to a University of Minnesota study the average person tends to forget one half to one third of what they have been told within eight hours, and two months later can only recall 25%. All the more reason then for leaders to focus more on listening.
“Leaders who refuse to listen will soon find themselves surrounded by people with nothing to say.”  Andy Stanley
1. Strategic listening is an asset
Kevin Sharer, who admits he didn’t pay too much  attention to listening throughout his 30s, is an exponent of strategic listening: “a purposeful, multifaceted, time-sensitive listening system that helps you get the signals you need from your ecosystem.”
The former chairman and CEO of Amgen imagines the individual signals as mosaic tiles of information. “No single tile paints the picture — and you never get all the tiles — but by assembling them you get a good idea of what the picture is.”
Sharer regularly met and listened to people in the company who didn’t necessarily report to him. He read everything from surveys to analyst reports to stay informed.  “I meet with our top ten investors twice a year to listen, and at shareholder conferences I consider the Q&As very important. The key is making yourself open to the possibility that information can and will come from almost anywhere.”
2. You can learn more
Too often by not listening properly  — “with your ears and not just your eyes” as my then 6-year-old daughter once told me  —  we miss out often crucial ideas and objections. Perhaps someone on your team has reservations. They may be reluctant to air their views, but their input is essential to understand what’s going on  and what is going wrong.
3. Learn to appreciate diverse voices
The last thing you need as a leader is to hear the same voices all the time, supporting your every act. You need people to question proposals and challenge them vigorously. It may sometimes make uncomfortable listening, but you may also  —   if you pay attention —   find out more about weaknesses in your organization or processes. You may even find some of your team have the solutions to those very problems, so long as you create the climate for them to articulate them.
4. You learn the sound of silence isn’t good
If no one raises their voice at meetings, or just nods their agreement, you’ve got a problem. It usually means people are either afraid to speak, or fear that if they do they will be met by a wall of indifference – or worse, ridicule. That’s where a true leader steps in to encourage people to speak their minds openly, secure in the knowledge that they will be heard.
5. Listening builds trust
By focusing on what people say you can help to build people relationships and trust. This is especially important if you are the new leader, or are creating a new team.

  • Concentrate on what people are saying
  • Demonstrate you understand by repeating/paraphrasing what they have said, or ask a clarifying question
  • Don’t interrupt while they are talking

Don’t allow yourself to be distracted (turn cell phones off, shut your door)
6. Actions show you have been listening
When someone comes up with a decent suggestion, or asks for problems to be rectified, you need to follow up. By delivering on your promises you will have shown you can not only deliver, but you also listened to their concerns. The best way to show you have listened is to take action on points raised.
Don’t ever make a promise you can’t deliver. Unfortunately, as Elizabeth Doty points out in strategy+business leaders, like companies, don’t always tick the right box with promises and commitments. Respond positively and you will have a more enthusiastic and engaged team.
Cultivate a good working relationship with them, Don’t kid yourself: your team knows when you are not listening. If you want to engage with them, and get the best out of them you’ll reap a rich reward, gain a highly motivated team, and be a much better leader – so long as you listen and pay attention to others.
Remember, the anagram for ‘listen’ is ‘silent’.
Do you have other reasons why smart leaders should listen? Why not share them with us below.