Becoming an exceptional business leader boils down to focusing on one essential aspect of leadership
As a business leader, it’s only natural to seek to engage your employees so they’re motivated to do their best work. So you spend the whole day in meetings: one-on-one sessions, team meetings, large-group conferences. Most of the time, you’re in front of the people who work for you.
But if you really look at who you spend time with, you’d realise that you’re physically present to only a small percentage of employees. And what happens most of time is that your communication is ad hoc or off the cuff, so your team only experiences you sharing a few random thoughts before you take off to another meeting.
To be a more effective and compelling leader, you need to be more purposeful about communication.
And the first thing you need to learn is how to listen — actively. Great leaders know that meetings with employees should not happen by accident. You need to establish a communication plan designed to provide maximum interaction.
Like everyone on a business team, leaders have a range of technical, leadership, and interpersonal strengths. No one expects their leader to be perfect. They do, however, expect their leader to listen to them. Your team will be more willing to work with somebody who’s flawed or lacks skills in any one of these areas, as long as they know they can have a conversation — and be heard.
The ability to engage, share feedback, and walk away feeling like their leader listened— even if they ultimately didn’t get what they wanted in the request — is essential in effective leadership.
So if you want to boost your team’s motivation to work hard in achieving your personal and business whys, you should first focus on improving your listening skills. Through this single improvement, you’ll start to learn about specific aspects of the business that need to be addressed. If your business is struggling to take off and you want to fix the problem, you simply won’t know where to start without this first critical step of learning how to listen to your people.
Make the time and space to listen
If you’re too busy to meet with employees, no one will have the chance to speak up. Like a professor having ‘office hours,’ a leader could have an hour or two dedicated solely to listening to what employees have to say. Make this a part of your daily routine. It doesn’t have to always be a formal meeting. Sometimes you just need to show up and walk around. These informal ‘sightings’ — having lunch with a few people in the cafeteria, touring a new facility — are very valuable for demonstrating that you’re in touch with what’s happening.
When having a conversation, be fully present
When it’s time for your employees to speak up, drop everything and listen. Give them your full, undivided attention. This doesn’t only apply to face-to-face meetings. Even when communicating to your team through phone or email, allow yourself to be fully committed to absorbing what they have to say.
Save your responses and reactions for later
Make some interactions you have simply about hearing the other person without saying anything in response. This helps you avoid coming off as defensive or rushing to a solution that may or may not work. Even though their sentiments may sometimes be unreasonable or illogical, you don’t necessarily have to dismiss their opinions on the spot. Take time to digest their words and try to see where they’re coming from so you can better assess how to respond and react.
Repeat back what you’ve heard to let them know you were actually listening
Make sure you understood your employee by repeating back. This reflective strategy gives them a chance to confirm or make any corrections. Understand that no one is perfect in articulating their issues. Everyone needs an opportunity to be heard on multiple occasions as their own beliefs and interpretations evolve. Listening isn’t a one off event. Allow employees to change their minds or clarify any misunderstandings.
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