Your Most Important Leadership Skill: Listening

Someone told me that my communication skills are the most important to develop. Or was it be inspiring to motivate them?

I don’t know about you, but I like to be given a clear path to accomplishment from someone that knows whats what. And for leadership, for managing people exceptionally, that person is my father and business partner, Ben Simonton.

And I continually ask him these kinds of questions. There are some interesting answers out in the leadership industry, but what did Ben say?

Listening is absolutely critical to creating a work environment in which employees will decide on their own to become highly motivated, committed, fully-engaged, and in that kind of condition they’re going to literally love to come to work.

As a manager, I want that. Now what does that mean? Watch the video for the full discussion and/or read the transcript below.

And tell us in the comments, will you try what Ben says to do?

Transcript

Listening is the manager’s most important leadership skill because it’s really the doorway through which all the things that the manager wants from employees, how they operate, how they perform etc. It is the doorway through which the manager, the executive, the boss, gets all that. By listening to people, he gets everything. It must be backed — and this is a big caveat — it must be backed by appropriate action. If the employee complains or makes a suggestion and there’s no action (and there’s right action and wrong action), but if there’s no action it’s a big negative.

I call it the most important leadership skill because as the boss leads, how does he know whether he’s leading in the right direction, the wrong direction, a high standard, or a low standard? And the only way he can find out is to find out what the followers think of the leadership. The leadership comes through the support the boss provides and the only way to find out how good that support is and whether he’s really…I mean, “Am I leading him towards being dishonest somehow? Am I leading him towards really caring about the work? How am I leading?” Well you go down and ask the employees. “Am I helping you? Are the tools good enough? Was the training good enough? What is disrupting you? How can I do better for you? How can I improve my support?” And they will start telling you. They will tell you everything about it eventually if they learn to trust you because you really do take the appropriate actions.

The importance of listening includes the fact not only to improve your own leadership, but from that you get the total employee’s commitment from it. You get their trust —they learn to trust you and you learn to trust them. You transmit by listening to them, you transmit great respect for them. All of them want to be heard and they want to be respected. Listening transmits that kind of respect. It also transmits the fact that you care. It’s the only way you can show that you care. So if you want very, very high performance out of employees, well you really have to listen to them a lot and respond correctly to them and they will become fully committed and fully motivated to do the very best work.

Only way to improve your leadership…only way to gain commitment, trust and respect.

Realize that there is no other way to build respect and commitment and caring. There’s just no other way. And there’s no way to find out how good your leadership is. Period. No way.

And after you go down and find out something is maybe wrong with your leadership and that you could make it better because the tools aren’t quite good enough so you go back and you fix the tools, how are you going to find out if the fix was worth it? Did it really do the job? You’re going to have to go down and find out from the people who use these things. And you will find out how good your leadership is. And when you get it high enough, they’re going to know that you really cared about them. “Boy, this man really provides the greatest support to us. He’s magnificent. Boy, do we love him.” And when they feel that way, they’re really going to do their work, because it’s the only way they can pay you back. That’s a great thing you’ve given them.

The normal boss goes out and listens some in the field and then they come back to their office and they figure out all sorts of new things to do or directives to give. But the purpose of the listening was to give orders. It really wasn’t to go out and satisfy the people.

So if you change that, if you actually go out and listen and then respond to that person or that group, and don’t take any action — maybe design some but don’t take any — go out and offer to them. “What if we did this? How would you believe that?” Now you’re really engaging them, now they feel like they’re valued members of the workforce. And once they get that way, then they’re going to blaze off. Their commitment and motivation, their performance is going to go sky-high.

But this is something you have to do and do and do and do. And don’t worry so much about the orders because you won’t have so much to fix. If you get all of them motivated, you won’t have much to fix because they’ll be fixing them all. They’ll be using their creativity and innovation to fix things and to do new things and to expand this or whatever. But it will be amazing, what they do. If you listen.

I haven’t really told you how to do this. But you know, if you go out and start doing it, you’ll get better at it. You will learn, you will make mistakes, you will not do the appropriate action, you will realize that you… “Oh dear, I didn’t handle that one right and these people aren’t really happy with what I did,” but it’s okay to make a mistake. Making a mistake has great value.

You can go down and admit to the person, “Oh, I made a mistake. I’m very sorry, I apologize.” You’ve got to apologize for your bad leadership. The best thing to do when you find out some bad leadership is say, “Oh, it’s my fault. I apologize for making a mistake and not giving you a good enough tool.” So go out and make your mistakes. That’s how I learned. And it’s fine if you admit to them.

By the way, admission of error is something that you need to have all employees do, so when you admit to them, “If the boss can admit to them, I can certainly admit to mine.” Otherwise they’re going to be hiding them, so it’s something…you want to take advantage of your mistakes. Don’t feel bad for your mistakes. Feel bad if you don’t correct them and go down and admit, “I made that mistake but this is the way I’m going to correct it.” So get out there. Get out there and practice.

Extras at the End:

It is the boss’ job. That is what the boss’ job actual is. Listening is probably 80, maybe 90% of it. Not anything else. It’s no more difficult than that. I admit that we don’t see much of it. So we haven’t experienced it. And we haven’t experienced the great productivity that results from it. I accept all of that, but you really need to try it. Try it and you will just be amazed by the results.


Don’t forget to tell us in the comments if you will try what Ben suggests to do.

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Ben Simonton

Ben Simonton Ben managed diverse groups of people for 34+ years, including as an executive in charge of a 1,300 person unionized organization. He made all the mistakes one can make, then devised solutions for 99.9% of people management issues. Ben can take you beyond great.