Listening and Leading: The Importance of Growing Big Ears

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On November 19, 2013

As a business coach, I talk with people all the time about what it takes to be a great leader. That, of course involves talking about the essential character traits of a good leader. So, let’s take a little quiz. If I asked you to list the top three character traits of a great leader, what traits would you pick?

Let’s be honest. A lot of us would choose characteristics such as: intelligent, driven, experienced, hard-working, creative, gifted, or great motivator.

But how many of us would select “great listener” as an essential quality for a great leader? My guess is that not that many of us would. And yet, that may be one of the most overlooked talents or character traits of a great leader.

And yet, that’s exactly what Dr. Mark Goulston M.D., talks about in his book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

We all know that influence is a huge part of leading a successful business. As leaders, we need to influence, motivate, and move people in the right direction. But Goulston suggests that one of the best ways to do that is to listen to the people we’re trying to influence.

In a presentation he gave to Gazelles, Dr. Goulston said, “A big part of communication is how well you listen.” He went on to say:

Trying to persuade people causes resistance, because they feel you pushing your agenda on them. On the other hand, making someone “feel felt” means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. When you do that you change the dynamics of the relationship. When that happens, instead of trying to get the better of each other, you “get” each other and that breakthrough can lead to cooperation, collaboration, and effective communication.

So, how do you actually do that? Goulston has a number of suggestions, including:

  • Talking with or at least talk to, but never talk at or over someone
  • Getting into their listening
  • Using the “Power of Pause: with phrases such as: “Hmmm . . .” “Tell me more about  . . .” and “Really?”

To really get through to people, Goulston suggests using Purposeful Agendaless Listening (PAL) in which the purpose is listening to serve vs. listening to sell.

How are your listening skills? Are you trying to convince people or are you listening to what they have to say—and motivating and moving them with what drives them?