Am I a “Listening Leader”?

man in yellow t shirt listening into cup on string

by Debbie A Wojdan

Listening is not just another TASK or TO DO on a long list of things a leader should remember to complete. Your ability to listen can build or erode your relationship with your employees, peers and your own leaders because it powerfully impacts them emotionally. The degree to which you truly engage and listen to someone tells them the degree to which you value them and their ideas. Would you want to work with or follow someone who did not value you or what you had to say?

I hope by now we are all clear on the studies and statistics on employee engagement and its impact on the success of a company. We all know, and really we’ve always known, that employees who feel valued are more engaged and therefore are more productive, effective and more likely to stay.

So as a leader you have to ask yourself, “How do I want to show up”. From a tactical perspective how do you want to be seen and perceived in your abilities to get things done. This is what I call “the doing”. From a human perspective how do you want to be seen and perceived in your abilities to cultivate loyal employees who will follow and learn from you. The human perspective is what I call “the being”.


The often minimized act of listening can be a key differentiator in your success as a leader in both “the doing” and “the being”! Where do you land in your self-assessment as a listener?

Answer the following questions to assess your listening competency. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, ask yourself “WHY”? Identify what you are doing instead and notice if it is helping or hurting you as an effective leader.

1: Do I practice active listening on a daily basis? Am I totally present in the moment with a real desire to engage in listening with no personal agenda? Do I show interest by asking relevant questions and listening without distraction?

2. Do I listen to another person for their possibilities? Do I jump in and give advice assuming that the person has no idea what to do or do I listen to be amazed by their ideas? Do I listen for their strengths and what they are capable of or just to solve the problem for them?

3. Do I listen for what is not being said? At times people cannot clearly articulate or are afraid to articulate the situation and/or their feelings. But if we are truly engaged we can spot the gaps, ask the right questions and bring about the clarity needed to move forward. Often people will come to the realization that what they thought was the issue was not the real issue at all and they can move to solve the right issue!

4. Do I listen for the opportunity to make another person shine? Do I put forward others’ strengths and accomplishments? How did you feel the last time someone “bragged on” you so you didn’t have to! How did you feel about the person who “bragged on you”? Probably very favorably, building the relationship and making you willing to engage in future conversations.

5. Do I regularly listen for the opportunity to acknowledge another’s efforts, attitude or contribution? Have you heard the saying (sorry I don’t know the source), A person may not remember what you said or what you did but they will always remember how you made them feel.

6. Do I listen to learn something new? Are there new facts, a different perspective, or information that sparks an insight about you? The day you think you can’t learn something from every conversation or interaction you have with another person is the day you probably should reconsider your role as leader. Great leaders are continuous learners regardless of the source.

7. During a conflict or difficult situation do I listen for common ground to move resolution and collaboration forward or do I listen to prove I’m right and others are wrong? If we can find common ground tensions are lowered and our hijacked emotions can return to productive thinking. Once common ground is established constructive conversation can resume and the participants can once again actively listen.

8. Do I listen with compassion and/or empathy? As I listen can I put myself in the other person’s shoes and see things from their perspective? Can I show compassion and/or empathy for another person’s situation or struggle and allow them to move past their negative thinking to productive thinking and action. OR do I judge, dismissing what the person has to say and perhaps missing a very important piece of the puzzle that would allow me to better understand the situation and help the person move forward.

9. Do I listen for what is right or what has been accomplished rather than for what is, in my mind, wrong or not done? When we listen for what is not right or not done we are in negative thinking. Negative thinking does not produce forward thinking or new insights. Listening for what is right or was accomplished gives us a platform to build on, allows us to move forward and encourage people into a positive space where new insights and ideas can occur.

10. Do I listen for opportunities to build relational currency? The smallest acts of kindness or unkindness can have a significant effect on people. Being interested and engaged in what another person has to say is an act of kindness that you can choose to offer every day. You can choose to listen to serve yourself or serve others as well, to build or to break relationships and to resolve conflict or escalate it. If people feel you are genuinely interested in them and what they have to say they will not only listen to you and your ideas, they will follow you.

Lead the effort to improve listening by your actions and example and help yourself and others feel like a million bucks!

About the author

Deborah O’Brien-Wojdan brings extensive experience to her work in executive coaching and organization effectiveness. As an executive coach, Debbie has been a trusted advisor to leaders for over fifteen years enabling them to enhance their performance in a wide range of areas including leadership, communication, leading organizational change, organizational alignment and developing high performance teams.