Most people would consider themselves good listeners. As with many things people’s self-assessments of themselves is much higher than the reality. And being a good listener is an essential part of being a good leader. Take a moment to set ego aside and assess whether are not you are listening as well as you could be.
Many people believe that good listening comes down to three simple items: not talking when others are speaking; letting others know you’re listening through facial expression and verbal confirmations (“mmmhmm”); being able to repeat what others have said, maybe even word for word.
A lot of managing advice given about being a good listener specifically instructs that managers do these things. Remain mostly quiet, nod with the obligatory “mmmhmm” and repeat back what the speaker has said. However, many believe this falls short or is at best just the beginning of good listening.
Consider the following as well.
Good listening isn’t just about polite silence while the other person talks. In fact, many believe the opposite is true. Many think that those who periodically ask questions that encourage exploration of the topic to be good listeners. These listeners ask questions that challenge the status quo in a constructive way. Sitting, nodding and making little sounds is no assurance that someone is really listening but when someone hears that their listener is critically analyzing what they say and asking critical thinking questions they know that person is really listening.
Good listening should include some kind of interaction that helps build the speaker’s self-esteem. A good listener makes the conversation a positive experience and this can’t happen through silence or negative criticism. Good listeners make people feel supported and that the listener has confidence in them.
The best listening is seen as a just a part of cooperative conversation. Feedback should be a back and forth with neither party becoming defensive about what the other has said. Looking only for errors in what another is saying might make you good at academic argumentation but not a good listener. The speaker should feel you are trying to help.
Just listening isn’t enough.
Good listeners do make suggestions. If a listener says nothing the speaker might as well journal their problems as the blank page is as responsive as a listener who says nothing, suggests nothing and doesn’t actively support the speaker.
Here are some additional questions a leader can use to help a mentee evaluate themselves or a problem they are having.
What can you control is another great question leaders can ask their mentees. The best part about this question is that it shifts the focus away from what is out of the control of the mentee clearing the mind to think about what one could actually do about the situation.
What solutions have you come up with is a good question because when struggling, stagnating is the worst thing someone can do. Knowing that your mentee has at least some ideas and won’t be relying strictly on their leader for ideas and answers.
While strictly not a question, tell me more, is a request that can help bring to the surface biases or blind spots that might be stopping up the mentee or additional details the leader can use to help the mentee.
Finally, one might ask, what are you reading? Asking about hobbies, interests, reading habits and similar questions help a leader to get to know their mentee on a personal level. This can give the leader a more complete view of the mentee.
Leaders and mentors should not feel obligated to use all these questions all the time when mentoring team members. Like much else they are a toolbox and one should always select the correct tool for the job.
The mysteries of inspiration may never be fully unraveled but one quality most leaders aspire to have among their team members or staff is to be an inspiration. We may not all have it in us to be the students of The Dead Poet Society’s “Oh Captain My Captain” but as science has proven great leaders are made, not born. So, what is it you can do to inspire your team?
Having one admirable or inspiring trait can be all it takes to be a go-to guy for your team. There are many traits that can work and these might all fall under a few umbrella categories. Any trait you can foster as “your thing” that will help with one of the following will go a long way in making you an inspiring leader. No leader has it all and figuring out your leadership “super power” will help you push that to the forefront of your style.
If you trait helps others develop their inner resources that’s a great one. One good thing all leaders do is help others be their best.
Connecting with others; if what you do is speak to people, empathize, sympathize, see things from their perspective you can be the person who helps the group understand itself as a set of individuals who are also more than the some their parts.
Maybe what you do well is “set the tone;” however you do that. No one is asking this kind of leader to be an actor; this kind of leader reads the room and knows the kind of pep talk the majority of the team needs.
Finally, many leaders are good at, simply said, leading. You are great at delegating, mitigating, negotiating. Every organization needs someone who is simply good at logistics and planning.
While it is certainly admirable and desirable to be more than one of these traits no persons journey as a leader need begin with a fool toolbox.
As a leader it is going to happen—your team is going to hit a rough patch. Whether that is caused be internal or external forces there are some things you can and should do as a leader to keep the team empowered and confident.
First off, communication is key. Your instinct might be to sugar coat things but honesty (as usual) is the best route. The confidence and positivity needs to come from the leaders presentation of the information. Make sure to cover what happened or is happening and how it is affect the company specifically or is expected to. What decisions are being made because of the situation. And most importantly what the current plan is going forward.
Next in any situation, if it is causing the goals of the team to be compromised, that means there is a lesson to be learned. Taking some time to figure out how the team wasn’t prepared or what they could do in the future to mitigate a similar issue has the dual benefit of strengthen the team and making them feel like they are in control as they begin to work out problems and solve them.
Reshare your vision for the future. Remind your team why you are all there. Take the time to celebrate large wings but maybe more important take time out to celebrate small wins. The positivity you can generate the better—mostly people want to feel good, give them a reason to.
Maybe most importantly, keep asking your team for honest feedback on how they think things are going. Again, this will give team members control and confidence that they can exert influence of the situation.
Leadership is a process. A complex one. It is a relationship built between leader and follower. This group also has the element of a goal everyone desires.
There are five moving parts that interact to create the entity of relationship of exchanges—the leader, the followers, the situation, the process itself and the results. On a timeline each of these parts influences the others and the outcomes of these interactions set precedents for the future.
Leaders are typically viewed as one who orchestrates or guides. The set the tone for the group in the hopes of moving forward with a goal in mind. Followers are not to be viewed as passive, however. In fact, many now view the followers as the most critical aspect of the relationship. It is the follower who sees the situation and defines the needs of the group to accomplish the goal.
The personality of the follower is what determines what kind of leadership style will be most effective. Leadership is not one philosophy the leader foists onto any group of followers.
The situation surrounds the followers and the leader and helps define what the followers need from the leader. Will the groups current skill set be able to solve the problem of the situation or do they need new guidance from the leader? Are the goals of the group clear? What are the emotions of the group concerning the problem to solve or the goals? Excited? Frustrated? Defeated?
Finally, there is the process itself which is distinct from the leader (the orchestrator). This process is never finished and evolves even as the situation, the goals, the followers and even the orchestrator change or move on.
In a sense the leader must be the most malleable and open to adaptation and change. The situation is defined, the leader’s team is defined, the goal is defined, the process of leadership is an always moving target. The leader must see this picture and adapt to be successful.