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Listening is the Overlooked Tool of Leadership

Listening increases the value and impact of your words.

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” Stephen R. Covey

Not listening:


Most people think that listening is the price we pay for our turn to talk. We have to listen so we can talk. In other words, listening is a cost.

When was the last time you were more excited to listen than talk?


I’m so comfortable judging that non-judgmental listening feels wrong.

Quick minds judge quickly. You work to prove you’re right once you decide someone’s idea is flawed. You point out mistakes. You validate your judgement.

Self-justification follows judgement.

Useful listening:

Listen to learn.

Enthusiasm to express yourself prevents learning.

Be more enthusiastic to listen and less excited to express yourself.

Unfocused conversations feel like chasing chickens.

  1. Listen to connect.
  2. Listen to learn.
  3. Listen to explore.


  1. How did you come up with this approach?
  2. What needs to be true for this solution to work?
  3. What’s the next step?
  4. Six months from now this blows up. What didn’t we do?
  5. What advice would the wisest advisor you know give you?
  6. What’s the most important success factor for this plan?
  7. If we made this solution just a little better, what might we do?

How to improve listening:

#1. Declare a specific intention.

A squishy intention like, I’m working to listen better, isn’t actionable.

I’m working on listening that lets others feel heard.

#2. Seek feedback.

What do I do – when you are talking – that helps you feel heard?*

What do I do – when you are talking – that gives you the impression that I’m not listening?

#3. Choose one listening skill to practice.

  1. Head nodding.
  2. Ask two questions before making one statement.
  3. Pausing when people are done speaking.
  4. Ask, “And what else?”

#4. Repeat steps 1 through 3.

How might leaders develop their listening skills?

How might leaders help others develop their listening skills?

Bonus material:

Nate Regier suggests asking:

“When you feel most heard, what am I doing?”

“What do I do that invites you to feel heard?”

“What do I do that helps you feel heard?”

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