Successful leaders are always honing their leadership skills. After all, good leaders are responsible for good companies, right? It’s no wonder that books about improving leadership skills are so popular. A quick search on amazon.com for “business leadership” will turn up almost 104,000 book titles.
However, we often overlook one of the most critical business leadership skills: listening. Type “business listening” into your amazon.com search and you’ll only find about 2,600 titles. It seems that many business leaders are more interested in developing other skills.
And yet, listening (to your employees, to your potential customers, and even to your competitors) is incredibly valuable. When we don’t listen, we make assumptions. We formulate strategies and plans based on inadequate information. Unfortunately, it’s something we do all the time. Why?
Let’s take a look at a few things that hinder our listening skills.
- We’re Too Busy: Everybody I know who is trying to grow a business is busy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being busy is good—as long as you’re busy doing the right things. But if you’re too busy to listen to ideas and trends and new developments going on around you, then you’re just too busy. And unfortunately, busyness begets more busyness. You have to make a conscious effort to listen.
- We Think We Know the Answers: If you already think you know all the answers, you won’t be motivated to listen to someone else. Of course it’s important that you choose the right people to listen to. There are a lot of voices out there and not all of them know what they’re talking about. But if you have some trusted advisors, you’ve got to make sure you listen to what they say. You don’t have to agree all the time, but you need to be aware of what’s happening. Even if you did know all the answers (which you don’t), the marketplace has a habit of changing. The questions being asked today are different than the ones that were asked yesterday.
- We’re Distracted: We’ve all had the experience of talking to someone who wasn’t paying attention to what we were saying. It doesn’t matter if the cause is a TV blaring in the room where you’re trying to talk, or if the person you’re talking to preoccupied with another problem. What you’re trying to communicate isn’t getting through. It’s a waste of time, and it’s frustrating. When the shoe is on the other foot, and you’re the one who’s supposed to be listening, you have to give it your full attention. In addition to appearing rude, you’re missing an opportunity to learn something.
- We Don’t Think Listening Is Important: This reason for not listening is really what’s at the heart of the others I’ve mentioned. For whatever reason, we simply don’t think it’s important to give our full attention to what someone else has to say. We may try to do it because we know it’s the right thing to do, but unless we’re convinced of the value we won’t be successful at it.
Why is listening so important? It’s interactive. When you read a book, the book won’t ask your opinion. A book won’t ask you how what’s been said might affect your business. A book won’t challenge you or say, “I think perhaps we’re approaching this problem wrong.”
What keeps you from listening—and from getting better at it? And what do you plan to do about it? I’d love to hear your response. In fact, I’m all ears!