Winston Churchill once said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”  Listening takes courage. Listening makes you vulnerable.  It makes you put others first.  By listening, you are putting your self-interest aside, and putting the needs of others first.  To be an effective leader in the modern enterprise, you need to learn how to be a better listener.  Simply put, you need to have the courage to listen.

Why listening takes courage

Some may ask why it takes courage to listen.  So first, let’s get buy-in on the premise.

Putting others first

We live in a self-centered society.  In today’s world of selfie-sticks and posting your grocery list on Instagram.  Our world tells us that we are the most important thing going on in our friend’s lives.  Our kid’s sports teams are the most important news of the day.  The vacation we are planning is better than everyone else’s.  And we are the best at our jobs, for sure.

Putting others first means putting those thoughts aside.  It means that we are more interested in what is happening in other’s lives than in sharing what’s going on in ours.  More likes and comments; less shares and posting stories.

Making yourself vulnerable

Vulnerability is a popular topic.  Writers like Brene Brown have certainly brought this to the forefront.  And you hear leaders talking about being vulnerable.  But, you see, that’s the problem.  They talk about being vulnerable instead of just demonstrating it.

To demonstrate vulnerability, take time to set your cares aside and listen.  Demonstrate empathy by not trying to solve or trivialize their situation.  Show that you are concerned and have a level of understanding of what they are going through.  But stop short of inserting your personal issues into the conversation.

What “Courage to Listen” Looks Like

What does it look like when we demonstrate the courage to listen?  Here’s a few thoughts:

We listen more than we talk

My wife often uses the saying “God gave us two ears and one mouth, so let’s use them in that same proportion”.

If I am to be completely honest, in my younger days I often would talk far more than listening.  I thought I knew everything.  In fact, I knew that I knew more than those around me.  I was a little cocky and self-confident.  And this attitude sometimes got me in trouble.

I learned that if I actually sat back and listened, most problems take care of themselves.  Most teams work through their issues.  And most employees will come up with an idea that is even better than my own.  Simply by letting silence work, I would find that the people I worked with would fill silence with ideas, some good and some bad.  But it would enable us to grow as a team.

We ask meaningful questions

When we step back from the idea that “I have to have all the answers”, we learn to look to others for input and ideas.  The most effective leader/coaches ask great questions.  And even if they aren’t “great” questions, they ask questions nonetheless.  So that team members know that their input is welcome and that their leader is listening.

Questions open up the dialog.  They tell team members that their views are welcome.  It creates an environment where every team member has a voice.

Questions can also be targeted at individuals.  This helps pull participation in from every member of the group.  Which leads to the next point.

We encourage active participation from everyone

Strong, courageous listening leaders encourage participation from everyone.  These leaders make sure to solicit input from all team members, and make sure that one or two strong-willed outspoken team members aren’t dominating the conversation.

I have seen this in action several times.  I remember once asking a junior programmer her thoughts on a particular problem.  She tended to not speak up in front of her more senior, outspoken peers.  She often lacked the courage to speak her mind.  In the meeting, she didn’t say much.  But later she came to my office to share some ideas.  I encouraged her to speak up at our next meeting.

At our next team gathering, I asked a leading question designed to get her to share her idea.  She didn’t volunteer, so I had to be more deliberate in getting her to share.  Her idea led to some good discussion and bolstered her respect on the team.  Over time, her confience grew and she became mroe comfortable sharing her ideas.  But it took intentional, deliberate actions on my part as the leader, to get her to develop this level of confidence.

Be Intentional, Be Courageous, Have the Courage to Listen

If you want to develop that level of involvement with your team members, you need to develop that same level of intentionality as I demonstrated with that team. It takes courage to not be the center of attention.  It takes even more courage to help your team members develop the confidence to speak up and be heard.

Remember these three tips:

  1. Look for team members who are not participating and seek ways to get them involved by listening intently for good ideas
  2. Develop their confidence by encouraging participation on an individual and team level
  3. Ask specific questions to elicit a response and drive involvement

With this roadmap, you can develop the courage of your team members.  And, in so doing, you demonstrate the courage to listen, which can often be much harder.

Do you need help getting your team on track?  Contact me to learn more about the tools I bring to help your team reach maximum performance.  I look forward to hearing from you.