Be a Leader Who REALLY Listens

As a leader, you’re not alone if in your rush to respond to managing through today’s business challenges you’re busier than ever. And yet the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. In situations of crisis, challenge or stress, that’s when your team really needs to experience your presence and know they’re being heard. You can’t be lending an ear 24/7, of course. But you can carve out the time to slow down, focus more on your direct reports, and put your excellent listening skills to work.

Here are some active-listening tips from MAP’s best-selling book, “The Disciplined Leader,” plus a few pointers we use to help sharpen our clients’ leadership skills.

1. Use the 80/20 Rule to Talk Less/Listen More. In the next few meetings you attend or lead, practice listening 80 percent of the time and talking or asking good questions 20 percent of the time.

2. Ask good questions, play back the responses. Disciplined leaders use the great question “Why?”, knowing it can often initiate positive change, drive performance, develop employees, and enhance the whole organization’s capacity for problem-solving and excellence. Use “Why?” more often, plus open-ended questions to drill deeper, build understanding and empower people to find answers on their own.

3. Notice your own struggles around listening. Sometimes it feels like our brains work faster than others at times, making it hard not to interrupt or give up the answers. Noticing all your communication habits, harmful and helpful, will enable you to see what needs to change—and what doesn’t.

4. Limit distractions. Ever find yourself moving rapid-fire among multiple screens when it’s more productive to focus on just one? Is your phone on mute during team meetings? And can you prevent disruptions so your time listening to a direct report is truly sacred? Such small activities enable better listening, connection and focus.

5. Address the shortcomings of virtual meetings. This new communication norm brings a whole host of issues. All can undermine active listening and connection. Get ahead of the challenges, learning how to troubleshoot technical difficulties and maintaining body language that reflects good listening, for example. Of note, John DiJulius has a great TEDx Talk on what he calls FORD: “Family,” “Occupation,” “Recreation” and “Dreams.” When talking with someone virtually or in person, focus on two FORD areas to build better engagement and understanding.

Active listening isn’t just about listening to someone during a meeting or Zoom call. It’s about holding yourself accountable by responding to what you learned and understood. How do you do that? Apply what you learn! Execute with vital follow-up action, whether corrective, supportive or even celebratory in nature.

Share with us your biggest roadblock (or solution!) around active listening here:


​ The Disciplined Leader

What do the best leaders have in common? The answer is one word: Discipline. A disciplined leader is one who identifies and focuses on the Vital Few: the 20% of activities that will drive 80% of the results. Learn More

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