Being a leader is challenging. When you are on the outside looking in it can appear really straightforward. After all you have the seniority and status to make things happen.
One of the skills that is often spoken about is the importance of being able to communicate. In my experience there is no shortage of leaders who can speak well and even get their message across in writing effectively. By the same token how many leaders do you know that are really great listeners?
What I am sure you and many others have experienced is leaders who find it hard to listen. There are usually a whole host of reasons why leaders struggle to listen.
In the early stages of being a leader it might be that you lack the self confidence. When lacking self confidence you tend you can easily become very defensive, especially when others are challenging you.
Alternatively you might assume wrongly that because you are the most senior and experienced person on a team you have all the answers. If you do you are heaping a whole lot of pressure on yourself.
You might be worried that someone else will come up with a better option than you did and feel a bit foolish, even though there is no need to take this stance.
On the other hand there are a whole host of benefits of becoming a better listener:
You get real insights into what is going on in the organisation or function which you lead. Of course you could rely on what is presented to you in reports. Trouble is people will tend to tell you what they think you want to hear.
You build trust. The fact is that if you are going to achieve anything, you have to gain and maintain the trust of others. Listening to others builds both trust and respect.
You come up with better solutions. Ever noticed how when one person offers an idea and others contribute to it, the sum of the parts are always better than an individual perspective.
You get to the heart of issues rather than merely the surface level stuff. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of fixing the obvious issues but avoid addressing root causes. In many ways it is like applying a sticking plaster to a major issue.
You get better engagement of staff and other stakeholders. If all you do is dictate and dish out instructions then people eventually just disengage.
So let’s consider how you might improve your listening.
The first thing you can do is to merely pay attention to the amount of time you are spending listening compared to paying attention to others perspectives.
Secondly, set yourself a challenge of not interrupting until others have stopped contributing. It will be tough to start with and after a while it will really just become the way you operate.
Thirdly, start asking more questions to deepen your understanding of others perspectives. They will appreciate the role you are playing in helping them clarify their thinking.
Fourthly, summarise back and check understanding. This gives a clear signal to others that you are really listening.
Finally, cut yourself some slack and recognise that from time to time you will slip into old habits. Rather than viewing this negatively, embrace it as part of your learning.
Goals and Achievements help healthcare organisations to develop their leadership capability as a catalyst for higher levels of performance. Learn more here.