Listen to Lead Effectively

As a Duke graduate, I suppose I’m contractually obligated to write about Coach K’s retirement, but I’m just going to use it as a jumping off point.

As many people know, Mike Krzyzewski retired last week after forty-two years as Duke’s head basketball coach. When I was an undergraduate there, the basketball team went to four Final Fours and won its first national championship. Meanwhile, I was playing baseball and football, which got very little attention in comparison despite some great years with Head Coach Steve Spurrier. But it was probably rightfully so. Coach K was pretty unique.

Last week’s post from Lead Read Today on Coach K got me thinking about communication and its importance to us as leaders, and specifically, how communication helps a leader achieve trust within the organization. I’ve written before on trust and character, and that it’s imperative to effective, sustainable leadership.

Now I’ll build on that: Without communication, our character can be difficult for those we lead to assess. I’m not suggesting that we merely tell others what high integrity people we are (hello humility!), but building trust requires relationships. Therefore, building those relationships, thereby building trust, comes simply through regular, face-to-face interactions.  Interestingly, virtual communications often fall short, so the more we rely on virtual communication, the more intentional we need to be.

This isn’t a surprise to you. Relationships matter. And leadership is challenging.

At the end of the day, it just isn’t enough to make good decisions and move ahead. To create a culture of sustainable, effective leadership, we need more than simply making good decisions for the organization and pressing ahead. As you know, there are often competing choices, sometimes all of which are good but one is preferred, or unpopular but necessary decisions, and as leaders we are forced to set a course on whatever information we have.

The more we share through communication, the better off we are. Communication allows for understanding, and often ownership of decisions, even by those we lead. A Harvard Business School post underscored the importance of communication in building trust, and outlined a number of skills to improve our communication.

I’m going to pull one out of their list that I’ve found to be one of the most powerful and that has led to immediate gains in trust: Listening.

If this was a math class (I think, I was never much of one for math), it might look something like this:

Sustainable leadership requires trust. Trust requires effective communication. Effective communication requires listening.


Listening → Effective Communication → Trust → Sustainable Leadership

To build trust, we need to listen well. A friend calls it listening with his heart. However you think of it, it’s engaged listening. Not while we respond to texts, give direction to another or surf the internet. Rather, we are actively listening, asking questions, maybe taking notes and being fully present in the moment with the person. In the recent Lead Read Today piece on Trust and Culture, it is noted that to maximize potential and a culture of trust, “open, inclusive communication” is required, as is feedback from those we lead - valuing their input and role in the process. Giving them ownership and trust. Coach K spoke about learning to receive input - listening - to maximize the capabilities of the team.

All of those pieces of “open, inclusive” communication, feedback and “valuing input” come back to listening. The willingness to hear others, to truly hear them and let them know that they’ve been heard, goes a long way to building trust through communication.

And thereby giving you a chance at effective leadership.

So…listen. Listen well. Like Coach K.

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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.