Listen up to be a great leader.

February 16, 2018

Want to become a better leader? Stop talking and start listening.

I’ll be honest from the get-go. Listening is not my preferred option, I prefer talking. I am a person who likes to speak up, have my say, come up with solutions. Those who know me know I am a strong personality who is confident to weigh in on an idea and that I am not shy in being vocal about what I believe in.

And that’s not a bad thing.

But as I’ve got older and more senior I have learned that talking isn’t always the right thing to do. Sometimes it is best to sit back and listen.

And this is particularly true for leaders. With status, you often have the power and authority to speak first. People want to know what you think. But have you ever stopped to think if talking is going to get you the best result?

When people of various levels in an organization come together in a meeting, and the most senior person in the room offers a solution first, how ready are the others in the room to contradict them, or question their idea, or even just offer one of their own? Someone more junior may have had an excellent insight or solution but they may not have the confidence to speak up, or may not have the window of opportunity if everyone else is speaking.

The leader would have been better served to listen first and speak last. That way, everyone would have been heard and they would’ve had the chance to fully assess the situation. Being a leader should not be viewed as a license to increase your own volume.

Astute leaders know there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by dominating it.

You become better informed and produce better work. And you are more popular with those whom you interact with because they feel valued and heard. You also learn a lot yourself!

At its essence, leadership may be about action, but leaders who act before they understand tend not to achieve the outcomes they desire. And to fully understand you have to listen.

Here are my top three tips for becoming a better listener:

1. The world doesn’t revolve around you: Stop worrying about what you’re going to say and stay focused on what’s being said. That way your thinking and responses will be more well-rounded and you will get to a better result faster. You will also bring people with you when you make the final decision.

2. A picture speaks a thousand words: People say as much (if not more) with their body language and facial expressions, as they do when they are talking. People will often describe me as an open book, as my face can give away my feelings – so I have to manage that carefully! But I also have to look for clues from others when they aren’t talking.

3. Ask questions and say thank you: One of the most often overlooked aspects of listening is thanking people for sharing their thoughts, ideas and opinions. If you acknowledge and thank someone for taking the time to share their point of view with you, they are more likely to do it again and you will build up good will and followership.

At the start of the year I hosted an all-office session called “Resolutions with Robertson.” It was a fun and informal session where I and other members of the Ketchum London team shared both professional and personal commitments for 2018. My top commitment was to talk less and listen more. At the end of March I’m going to check in with the team on my progress, but writing this blog has served as a very timely reminder.

Jo-ann Robertson is the CEO of Ketchum London. Her areas of expertise includes strategic media relations, crisis and issues management, stakeholder relations, corporate reputation management, and government relations. Jo-ann is a connoisseur of fine shoes and loves baton twirling. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter @RedRobertino