Being a humble listener is a skill all leaders need to develop.
As a natural problem solver, I start trying to develop a solution before fully understanding an issue. This was a blind spot in my leadership and pastoral care for many years. Admittedly, some problems reached the emergency stage and required immediate solutions. However, I needed to learn how to slow down, listen, gather information and gain the perspective of others involved. I had to develop the discipline of listening to those I lead.
Many leaders are finding the development of this skill increasingly tricky. The difficulty stems from the masses’ increased ability to share opinions, events and stories. Did you get my text? Did you get my email? Did you get my instant message? Did you see my post? For those in leadership, the noise of constant communication becomes overwhelming, and the temptation to make decisions on our own increases.
I need the reminder that only good listeners are worth the conversation. My point here is not to release leaders from discussions with those under their leadership. It is a bit of the opposite. It is a warning that those under our care will not bother to bring us problems if they believe we are poor listeners. If I communicate that I am not a good listener, I am not worth the energy required to request my help. I simply will not be a trusted leader.
Through a recent review of Scripture, I found some much-needed help. In Proverbs 13:1, we learn that good listeners are made wise and humble. The idea of being made wise caused me to reflect on leadership moments when I was in over my head. By listening to a combination of experienced leaders and those under my care, I was indeed made humble and began to grow in wisdom. In those moments, I had to admit that I lacked the necessary tools to lead successfully. If I were going to move forward, I needed to listen and listen well.
Good listeners also understand their culture and give confidence to those who speak. In Acts 26, Paul had the confidence to address King Agrippa because he understood the customs and controversies of the Jewish people. Do you know the traditions and controversies of those under your care? Are you familiar enough with the context of others that they have the confidence to share their life?
Along with these Scriptures that help us grow as listening leaders, one other practical skill requires our attention: Asking reflective questions must be utilized in every conversation. Reflective questions allow us to delve deeper into the heart and minds of those who engage us in conversation. Examples of such questions include “Can you give me more detail?” “How did you come to that conclusion?” These are just a few examples of the many questions we can ask to draw more details and attain a greater understanding of difficult situations. These questions are asked from a place of humility that helps us grow in wisdom. They also help those we lead have greater confidence that we care about what is on their hearts and minds.
The blind spot of hasty conclusions comes on us quickly in times of tight schedules and stress-filled days. Our years of experience may cause us to think that we have heard it all and we can move to a solution quickly. This is the opposite of the humility required of a good listener and does not build confidence in others. Slow down, listen and ask clarifying questions, and you will increase your leadership influence by listening.