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Leadership and Listening Active Listening Exercises

Elizabeth W. Smith says it best when she said; “When you take on a leadership role, you have to be willing to listen.” It truly is amazing what you learn when you spend more time listening than when you are talking. There is nothing new with this statement, other than that listening is not as easy as you would think. Leadership and Listening go hand in hand.

“Listening is an overlooked tool that creates an environment of safety when done well. Several studies over the decades have estimated that we spend anywhere from a third to half our time listening and yet we don’t retain very much. Back in 1957, researchers found that listeners only remembered about half of what they’d heard immediately after someone finished talking. There’s no reason to think that ratio has improved since then”; comments Melissa Daimler in a 2016 interview.

William A. Cohen writes in The Art of the Leader: "There is little question that listening motivates. It may be far more important in leadership than you ever realized." Particularly when you think that often we are engaged with internal listening. That’s our own thoughts, worries, deadlines, or next vacation. Focused listening is better. This is when we can focus on the other person, but our mind may not be fully engaged with the other. The key is to participate in 360 listening. This is where we are not only listening, but watching body language, small nuances like how they are saying things, and most important – what they are not saying. People are motivated and empowered when they see you listening and fully engaged.



Why you need to listen

David Steinberg CEO of Zeta Interactive shares; “The greatest success in my position as CEO has come from speaking less and listening more. By focusing on hearing colleagues rather than aiming to constantly provide direction as CEO, you're much better equipped to see the full picture of your company's collective strengths, weaknesses and needs. Doing this, you can see where you may need to make adjustments to push impactful innovations and bolster areas where you see great potential.”


Jason Hotchkiss in Gentleman’s Gazette provides a terrific reason why you need to listen better; “Leaders should be visionary, passionate, and strategic, but they can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. If they cannot listen well, then they are walking down a dead-end road. Listening is a responsibility that does not appear in a job description though it is crucial for everyone. Leaders who choose to listen to those around them are making a conscious choice to learn at a deeper level.”

Tips to better listening

Be present, be in the now. Get rid of any distractions, interruptions, cell phones, anything that will take your attention away from the conversation you are having with some one, group, or meeting. Unless there is an emergency of course, but how often do they happen.


Ways to listen

  1. Give your focus to the speaker and focus on what is being said.
  2. More important, people don’t always communicate, or are afraid to communicate what needs to be said, so listen to what is not being said.
  3. Ask for clarification. Sounds simple, but the clarification that is needed may not be for you but for the speaker. By probing you may come up with the details that are necessary to make a better decision.
  4. Look people in the eyes, that way they know you are engaged.
  5. Watch your body language. Be aware and intentional.


Exercises to practice

  1. Stop every 30-45 minutes and ask yourself; “Am I really listening?” Let’s face it, we can’t always focus 100%, so this simple little technique helps us get on track.
  2. When one of your employees come to you with a question, you might ask “What do you think?” or “What would you do?”. Not to be silly but to open a conversation and find out more options.  In many ways it can be very enabling for the person.
  3. Create spaces in your day so that you can talk to various people in your organization and give them your full attention. Your employees and teammates want to be heard. Not only that, they want to feel part of things and that they are important to you.
  4. Get into the habit of repeating what you heard by paraphrasing what you were just told. It is amazing how often what we thought we heard was totally opposite to what was said or meant.
  5. Create a listening assessment. Ask yourself the following questions.
    1. When I am with my team do, I actively seek insight and feedback from them?
    2. Are they afraid to criticize me or are they defensive in any way?
    3.  In our meeting, who is doing the most talking?
    4. Am I asking and encouraging great questions?
    5. Do I encourage people to take opposite viewpoints?

The interesting phenomena of all this is that the more you listen, people are more apt to listen to you. As I mentioned earlier, none of this is new. Epictetus wrote, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”  St. James wrote in James 1:19 “Be slow to speak.”


Chuck Groot’s CPA, MPA, MBA credentials as an author, teacher, business coach and entrepreneur are noteworthy. His clients credit their success to his uncanny ability to get right to the root of any challenge that they put in front of him.  He credits his success to his clients and their willingness to being open to new ideas and desire in pursuit of excellence. 

As an entrepreneur, his enthusiasm and innovative approach have garnered him both professional success and the recognition of his peers. But his greatest delight is being able to share these skills with others and enabling them to be successful on their own.


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