63: Learn to Lead: Ten Essential Skills Every New Leader Must Master: Listen and Learn

Do you feel like you are listened to at work?
Do you feel like you are listened to at work?

We are starting our new series on the top ten skills every leader must master in order to be effective.

Our new series is based on input from my listeners and my own journey of leadership. I am not going to tell you ahead of time what all the letters stand for..that is up to you to gather as you listen!

Today we are going to cover the “L” in leadership. It actually stands for two words…..

L – Listen and Learn! The two most important words in a leader’s vocabulary.

  • Keep Listening!
  • Listening. “Listen” is the most important word in a leader’s language. Just because we are the leaders does not mean we are the only ones with a voice. The L in leader stands for listening (see James 1:19).
  • I hear from so many followers and stuck employees, “My boss just won’t listen to our input.”

How do you feel if you are not listened to?

  1. Unimportant
  2. Marginalized
  3. Waste of time trying
  4. I am invisible
  5. My opinions are not respected
  6. I am not respected
  7. I have nothing to contribute

Leaders often love to talk. They enjoy listening to their own great pearls of wisdom and insight. Sometimes they even begin to believe their own press reports. And as they gain more authority, they have less reason to listen to subordinates. Have you ever noticed that there is much more horizontal communication in an organization than vertical? Coworkers are always talking about everything, but the communication between
those coworkers and their superiors is much less frequent and much more formal.

Leaders must figure out ways to tap into that underground flow of information. They must keep current on the undercurrents.

The more people you lead, the more you must listen. Effective leadership has more to do with listening than with talking. Leaders, by their very nature, tend to be removed from the front lines of battle in the organization. Therefore, they must listen to those who are in the trenches and rely on that information to make wise decisions. Yet the pressures of leadership work against that process at every turn.

Here are some of the reasons why it is hard for leaders to listen to everyone in the organization:

  • Too little time. The more people you lead, the less time you have for each person. (And, of course, the more tasks each of them expects you to accomplish!)
  • Too many people. There are literally dozens of leaders in our organization with whom I should have an intimate relationship, including the top leaders in the home office, the leaders of our field offices in North America, our international directors, and the sixty-plus leaders of our projects around the world. There are just too many of them, but they can each get individually frustrated with me if I don’t take the time or build the systems whereby they can communicate with me.
  • Pressure. Leaders usually find themselves under a constant sense of pressure from more deadlines and responsibilities than they can handle well. The image of a soldier in battle comes to mind: Here I stand in the trenches, with bullets flying, planes buzzing overhead, and tanks rolling in our direction. My radio is crackling with news from many fronts. Then along comes one of my people who wants a quiet, long talk about his or her concerns. The intense pressures of leadership sometimes make it very difficult to listen attentively, which brings us back to chapter 2 and making time for people.
  • Distance. In some cases the sheer problem of physical distance between the leader and his or her followers makes it tough to stay in close contact. I have the challenge of many of our top leaders living five thou- sand miles away from me.
  • Too much knowledge. Leaders sometimes know so much that they find it hard to listen to someone rehearsing stories, facts, or anecdotes that the leader has already heard dozens of times.
  • Pride. This comes on the heels of the knowledge problem. Sometimes we simply think we know too much. We get to the place where we don’t think we can learn from others. The admonition of Scripture should be clear enough: “Be quick to listen [but] slow to speak” (James 1:19).
  • Communication overload. The telecommunications revolution is tightening the information noose around the neck of the average leader. Leaders can become so saturated with communication that they find their system shutting down from overload. With cell phones, notebook computers, faxes, e-mail, and BlackBerrys, you can run but you can’t hide from communication overload.

Nothing stops the progress of an organization more quickly than leaders failing to listen. Like hardening of the arteries, restricted communication will destroy a leader’s credibility. Followers want to communicate to their leaders. If you fail to listen to them, their very effectiveness and job satisfaction will be in jeopardy. You don’t have to agree with them, but they need to know that they were heard.

Keep Learning: If we stop learning today, we stop leading tomorrow!! Life long learning!

“It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning.”Claude Bernard

Or put another way, we don’t know what we don’t know. This is where Romans 12:8 comes in:

8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (NIV)

8 If you are a preacher, see to it that your sermons are strong and helpful. If God has given you money, be generous in helping others with it. If God has given you administrative ability and put you in charge of the work of others, take the responsibility seriously. (Living Bible)

Donna says : We have to keep investing in our own development. Self improvement is so key to growing in your leadership.

Moses bragged to his father-in-law about all the amazing things that had happened. The Bible does not say if Moses took time to play with his kids or get reconnected with his wife. We have to leave that part to our imaginations. I love how humble Jethro was as he patiently listened to his son-in-law—good consultants begin with a lot of listening:

So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them.
Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. (Ex. 18:7–9)

That night as Jethro rested he must have pondered what he should say to his son-in-law. I have a wonderful father-in-law, Mark Bubeck, a godly man who has given me such great advice over the years. My own father has been gone for twenty-five years, so Mark has been my only dad during most of my adult years of leadership. I so appreciate how often he affirms me. I couldn’t ask for a greater father-in-law, whom I have called “Dad,” over the years. He encourages me not only in my work but also in how I have taken care of his daughter and his grandchildren. And as my children are getting married and having their own children, I appreciate his concerns in a whole new light. Now my kids are providing him great-grandchildren—it doesn’t get any better than that!

Jethro loved and respected Moses in the same way. It was not until the next day that Jethro truly got the picture of why Moses was so busy. It says in verses 13 and 14 that Jethro watched and observed, like any good consultant would. And then it was time for Moses to hear the consultant’s input as Jethro got real about the big mistake he saw Moses making:

When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” … Moses’ father-in- law replied, “What you are doing is not good.” (Ex. 18:14, 17)

Okay, the advice from Jethro was clear—build a team, and learn to delegate: “That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you” (Ex. 18:22). I think this is great advice for the many high-capacity, high-octane, type A personality leaders we find in business and nonprofit leadership today. It’s so easy to get out of balance in our personal lives, and, unfortunately, the damage from this mistake doesn’t show up until it’s usually too late. I have seen too many leaders fail in their professional lives for personal reasons that have to do with this kind of lack of balance—like Moses, we need to learn to get a life.

Jethro helped Moses learn to be team centered in his leadership. And over time he learned to develop others who took a significant role on his team. Coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama was famous for allowing his assistants to make a lot of key calls in football games. He believed that if you don’t let the assistant coaches coach, you won’t ever get any good assistants.

Four Action Points:

  1. Sharpen your listening skills – ask your people if you are a good listener and ask them to be honest.
  2. Try feeding back to people what they said to you.
  3. Read and listen to material that will help you grow as a leader.
  4. Attend some great conferences – Like the Willow Creek Summit

Our next show in the series will be E: Emotional Intelligence.

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