Leading by Listening

“When you speak, you repeat what you know. When you listen, you learn something new.”

- Dalai Lama

A leader who listens garners more respect from employees. Sometimes, the best way to lead is not by talking or instructing — but simply listening.  Communication is such a critical element that can convert the whole effort to a better efficiency and end results. While communication tends to be seen more as speaking, apparently listening plays as much importance, if not more, to the whole dynamic of the conversation.

Active Listening

There is a profound difference in listening than active listening.

The former can be more of a one-way-street where there is little to no feedback being given at all. As an active listener, the conversation shouldn’t revolve around just one person, but instead it needs to be reciprocated. It is about being there, not just physically but mentally as well.

Immediacy behaviors, which can be defined as “verbal and nonverbal communicative actions that send positive messages of liking and closeness” play an important role on how we feel when communicating with the receiver. The little nod, head signal or even simple replying with something like “uh-huh” can give huge encouragement for the other person to continue talking.

Most importantly, this “minimal encouragers,” along with a proper eye contact and appropriate intonation, signals you are there to listen and appreciate what is being said. Showing that you care and value others’ opinions can be a major motivational boost toward the whole organization’s performance in the long run. In a functional and healthy working environment, trust is one of the main drives for better performance — and to build trust, it all starts with a good communication, which develops from proper listening.

Learning Mentality

You have probably heard of the well-known quote by author and educator Stephen Covey: “Most people don’t listen with the intend to understand; they listen with the intend to reply.” The collective monologue is everyone talking and no one listening.

This is the situation where we need to limit our internal monologue as it can be the number one barrier that shields the message and value of the presentation. In short, we need to be fully engaged to comprehend and digest whatever being said in the room.

A learning mentality involves being prepared to be wrong or set a mindset that we do not know everything in this world, and there is a chance anyone, even those who are less experienced than us, can provide some sort of new knowledge to us.

I have noticed that doing this seems to be a real challenge at first, especially when I have a lot to rebut on the initial idea, but the first thing is first and I let the speaker finishes before interrupting.

Not only will this nurture respect amongst each other, but it will also foster the sense of safety for everyone to voice what they have in mind. Oftentimes, employees are afraid to speak their mind as to not seem foolish, which might lead the company to miss out on some potentially innovative ideas being laid out to the whole group.

In Closing

Working away from offices tend to isolate employees and potentially diminish the sense of belonging for them toward the organization. Chances are that most of us have never lived in a pandemic before and possibly have no direct answer on how to navigate this journey in combating this challenge. It is during times like this that employees’ feedback would be more crucial than ever.

For a small team in particular, having a sense of safety and assurance is vital in ensuring that all voices can be heard without any reservation.

In closing, let this be your reminder to actively listen to your employees. It could change everything.

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April 15, 2021 at 5:38 am
Neeraj Tayal

Just thanks for an excellent article. I will share with my colleagues.

May 6, 2021 at 8:49 am

Nice tips! Thanks for sharing. FYI the Stephen Covey quote uses word "intent" (vs. intend). :)


Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.