Lead by listening. To be a good leader you have to be a great listener.
– Richard Branson
One of the most consistent remarks I hear from staff is that their leaders do not listen.
One of the shifts in thinking when becoming a leader is getting used to the reality that your role is to be there for them, and not the other way around.
You need to encourage them. You need to engage them. If you are waiting for someone else to encourage you or motivate you to do your job, then you are not thinking like a leader.
Your primary role as a leader is to make your team as effective as possible. You are there to make sure that they have everything they need to do their work. This means that you need to be there for them, consistently. You must focus on them, not on yourself.
I often preface these three questions by saying to my clients: “If you want to change your life as a leader, learn these three questions.”
The three simple questions are:
How are you?
What do you think (or feel)?
How can I help you?
How are you?
“How are you?” is often used as a greeting these days. It is not a question. In fact, sometimes if you start to answer the question the person has moved on.
As leader, it is an important question to ask. It is just as important to listen to the answer.
None of us live in a vacuum. “Leave your problems at home and focus on your work” might be possible for some, but not for most us. What happens outside of work will affect my performance.
You need ask people how they are, and then you need to listen to, and remember, the answer. You do not have to solve all the problems. The fact that someone listened and cared is usually good enough. People need to be heard.
I was coaching someone a while ago and he was struggling with social interaction. He is an introvert and cannot stand small talk. My advice was to just ask the other person how they are, and then sit back and listen. I told him that the probable reason that the other person was asking how he is, is because they were hoping he would reciprocate and ask the same question.
Asking people how they are, and then listening, shows that you care.
What do you think?
One of the most common traps I see new leaders fall into is the belief that they have to know everything. This is a bad start. People who think they know everything learn nothing.
In your team you have two types of people:
The first group are those who look at facts, or apply logic, think about it, and give you an answer. If you ask them what they think, they will tell you what they think.
The second group will use instinct, or intuition, gut feel or feelings, and then give you an answer. If you ask them what they think, they will tell you what they feel. Your job as a leader is to know your team well enough to know the difference.
If you do not ask people what they think, they will stop thinking. Asking people what they think is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. It is very difficult for an insecure leader to ask others what they think.
Many years ago, someone asked the Managing Director of the company I worked for what the secret of great leadership was. His answer: “Never employ someone who is not smarter than you.”
Your role as a leader is to get smart people to contribute. If you don’t let them, they won’t.
How can I help you?
Firstly, you need to change your attitude. You need to think like a leader. You have to ask yourself the question every time you make a decision: “Will this decision help my team get the job done, or will it hinder them?”
Next, you need to make sure that you understand that you are there to create an environment in which your team can be productive, with the emphasis on being productive.
Lastly, you need to ask them how you can help.
You need to be careful about this. This is NOT about pandering to their wants, and it does not mean that you are their servant. Even in this age of entitlement, there is very little democracy in a work environment. It does not mean that you have to make sure that there are enough Nespresso pods in the machine!
It means that because of your position as the leader, there are things that you can do, or get done, that they cannot do. There are decisions you can make. There are people, resources and information you can access. There is a broader perspective that you can bring. There is a picture you have that they do not have.
All this needs to be made available to your team.
Write down these three questions, memorise them, and then use them.
“Lead by listening. To be a good leader you have to be a great listener.”