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A Time to Listen

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Following is a guest post from Kevin Eikenberry.  Kevin is an author, speaker, trainer, consultant, and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (http://KevinEikenberry.com) .  His new book, co-authored with Guy Harris, From Bud to Boss – Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership (http://FromBudtoBoss.com ) publishes on February 15th. The Free Bud to Boss Community (http://BudtoBossCommunity.com )is also open and available now!

Ask most anyone to think of a great leader and on their short list you will find someone considered to be a great orator or powerful public speaker.

Ask anyone to list the skills of a great leader and communication skills or public speaking skills will invariably make the list.

The reasons are clear and (at least) two-fold:

1.  Leaders must influence groups of people and so the best leaders are able to communicate effectively to them.

2.  Many people would like to be better public speakers (or are afraid to speak in front of groups) and so they look up to and think highly of those who have this skill.

There is no question that being an effective communicator, including in front of a group, is an important skill of leadership.

The paradox is that the best speakers often miss another equally important (though not as often revered or thought of) skill. Actually, I’m not being fair – they may not miss this skill, it might just get overwhelmed by their strength as a  speaker.

Great leaders must possess this other communication skill too – the skill of being able to shut up and listen.

Yep, leaders must be able to talk in public successfully, and leaders must be able to (and willing to) shut up and listen.

The best leaders do both well.

Remarkable leaders know when to do each.

In the case of leadership communication, timing is everything. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3 (NCV) starts out:

“There is a time for everything and everything on earth has its special season.”

From there through verse 8 examples are given.

If I could add an example from a leadership perspective, it would read:

There is a time to speak and a time to listen; a time to share your ideas and a time to value the ideas of others.

It is our role and responsibility as leaders to become great communicators.  The paradox is finding the time to communicate with our lips and the times to communicate with our ears.

Your leadership activity today is to work on that balance; and recognize that even if you aren’t a great speaker, you probably need to be using your ears more and your mouth less.

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Jay Forte   |   16 February 2011   |   Reply

Great post Kevin.
I find the most successful leaders, parents, teachers, interviewers, etc. are the ones who ask really good questions and then listen very intently. Gathering critical information is essential today – and so many of us take over and tell instead of ask questions and listen. And like speaking, to be good at it takes practice. To listen, not to just hear, takes effort. Thanks for the reminder.

Susan Mazza   |   18 February 2011   |   Reply

I’ll add that the better (and more) we listen the more likely it is we will be able to speak in a way that ensures people actually hear what we have to say and get the message we intend.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom here Kevin!

Kevin Eikenberry   |   19 February 2011   |   Reply

That is so right Susan!

The list of reasons listening matters is long . . . and any one of them is reason enough.

Kevin 🙂

Kent Julian   |   29 June 2012   |   Reply

Communication is never a “”one way street””. I’ve had the privileged to worked with some exceptional leaders and they have all been good listener. In fact, they consistently seek out new and better ways to listen. Great insights; thanks for sharing!

Kevin Eikenberry   |   16 February 2011   |   Reply

Thanks Jay – you are right, listening is important/critical for the reasons you ask. It is important for another reason too – when we *really* listen we are investing in realtionships, building trust and creating something very special – special because it is all too rare.

As leaders people are watching us, modeling after us and more. What better example could we leave than to truly listen?

Thank you for the kind words Jay.

Kevin 🙂