• What behaviors define leaders that listen?
  • They do not cut off people in the middle of sentences.
  • They do not look at their blackberry or computer when someone is talking to them.
  • They do not ridicule people in public or private. This action almost insures that people will assume that you are not a good listener.

These are just some of the observations I have made in my experience in working with high-powered leaders. The best leaders have been able to balance these behaviors with the amount of time they spend listening to people who are not very articulate or succinct in their conversation.  Essentially, good listening is a character trait. A person must have a general respect for others if he wants to be a good listener. Leaders that look down on the people who work for them are not able to make a permanent shift from poor listener to great listener unless there is a shift in the way that they view people.

Some effective ways to make someone feel heard are:

  • Make eye contact consistently
  • Acknowledge their words by asking clarification questions to show that you are really trying to understand what they are saying
  • Use body language that demonstrates that you are not distracted. If you are distracted, tell them and have the conversation later
  • If you are on the phone, you will have to acknowledge more than you would in person by using phrases that confirm that you are attentively listening on the other line. (i.e. uh-huh, makes sense, okay)
Recently, I created a tool called the Goal Alignment Matrix (GAM). It is a listing of company goals aligned with departmental goals aligned with a roadmap to achieve each department goal. In using the GAM with a current client, I realized that most of the managers that used the tool put down lofty goals. When they sat down to make a roadmap of how they were going to reach the goals, the goals seemed detached from the reality of what they were working on day to day. This realization prompted them to reevaluate their goals and in some instances, the activities they were engaged in on a daily basis.

What is the right level of clarity when communicating a message? I want to be understood but I don’t want to oversimplify things. What is the right level of detail to communicate at? The answers to these questions make or break a message.

I have come across geniuses in a variety of fields. Many of them have been very poor communicators. Specifically, they jump from topic to topic without closing the loop on any one thought.  Many leaders suffer from the same issue. They don’t have the time, patience or know how to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on a thought before moving on to the next one.  Then they wonder why the people that work for them cannot follow instructions or are constantly asking for their help.

Leaders of small to medium sized companies are often better at performing almost all of the functions in their company than their employees. Many times, this is due to the fact that the leader has more “skin in the game” than anyone who works for him or her.  Furthermore, they often expect the people that they hire to carry out the functions to be just like them in terms of process and thinking.  This leads to increased dissatisfaction and frustration of the leaders with their employees.

Often, this dynamic leads to employees being in a constant state of awe of the leader and  adopting a belief that they will never be as proficient as the leader in carrying out their functions in the company. Of course, this scenario leads to a situation where there is a stagnation in the leaders ability to lead and the employees’ ability to do their job better than the leader can.

In order to address the stagnant situation, much reflection and realization is required on both sides, the leader and the employees. However, the initiation to break the stalemate must come from the leader.