Becoming a Leader Who Listens

Most leaders are problem solvers and achievers.  They are the ones who get things done, the high performers and the award winners.  Traits like initiative, assertiveness, and determination are second nature to most leaders.  Individual accomplishments and recognition are goals to attain, and our culture rewards the individual for making it alone.  We learn from an early age to do things independently. We are encouraged by cultural conditioning through institutions, family, and media to achieve independent success and to be the best.  We hear messages like, “Don’t ask anyone for help. You can do it!” Or the inspiring, “You should have known better.” Without actually knowing, how could we have known better?  Report cards, paychecks, raises, and most awards reward individual merit and work.  We are fully programmed to be individuals who make it to the top, beat the other guy or gal, make a lot of money or get straight A’s, all “on our own.”

Then, we go to work. We are expected to work with others, to get along, and to be on a team. We mostly haven’t been trained to share success, recognition, or accomplishments.  If we do well, primarily through personal achievements, we get promoted to our first job of supervising other people where we are required to LEAD other independent overachievers. Suddenly all that independence is not very helpful.  We are now leading a team.  We know that the team’s impact is greater than the individuals. We want to harness the power of many minds and not just one or two.   The things a team can accomplish together far outweigh most anything we can do alone.  How do we learn quickly to inspire others to collaborate, listen, and assimilate as active and influential team members?

We need humility most of all.  It’s hard to be humble and give up our confidence or even arrogance when we have attained the position of a leader.  We now must consider other people more than we did before.  Being on a team doesn’t mean we never receive credit for a job well done or let others know of our accomplishments.  However, we must also give others recognition frequently as well as the entire team as a whole.

The definition of arrogance is “proud in an unpleasant way and behaving as if you are better or more important than other people.”(Cambridge)  Arrogance is subtle much of the time.  Thoughts like, “I can solve this problem, I know the answer.  I will fix this.” can seem helpful but they don’t allow us to be in the position of listening for other ideas. We start to fix it without even considering what others could offer, and we shut their ideas out as well as their assistance.  Unfortunately, to be conditioned to focus on individual success and recognition means we may be conditioned to be arrogant without realizing we are.  In other words, most leaders, even outstanding ones, have big egos.  What’s required to be a great leader is sometimes to let our knowledge go and to be humble.

With humility, we must listen, recognize others and become aware of our own “know it all” thoughts and actions.  To lead a team, we have to let others express their ideas even when we think we know the answer.  So many times, leaders believe they know the answer.  Typically, we are unaware that others have great ideas and can provide better solutions.  We need to create an environment where it is safe for others to contribute and share their thoughts.  It’s fun to experiment with not being the fixer. Spend time being open-minded, asking questions and listening carefully to what others have to say.  Not only will you gain a lot of knowledge but people will connect with you.  They will become energized and engaged. After all, being heard is something people really want, and they rarely get it.  If you pay attention to people with curiosity and an open mind, they will become loyal, motivated, and excited to be at work. The team will achieve great things and contribute a lot of solutions and ideas for success.