Human Resources

Why Being a Strong Leader Requires Good Listening Skills

6 April 2021

6 min

A key characteristic for what makes a good manager today revolves around making a conscious effort to improve listening skills

Last week, on Talentsoft’s “The Ins & Outs of Work” podcast, we caught up with Peter Griffiths, co-founder and CEO of The Mind Takeaway, to talk about the new role of the manager, the importance of listening skills, and the rise of self-leadership—the drivers of what he refers to as “regenerative leadership” within organizations. Here are a few highlights from our engaging conversation. Be sure to tune in to the full podcast episode below.

It takes leadership and courage…to actually sustain and regenerate the organization. We want to learn from the past and also put that aside if it’s not serving its purpose in the 21st century. It’s the new paradigm of leadership.

– Peter Griffiths, in Talentsoft’s “The Ins & Outs of Work” podcast

What is regenerative leadership?

It’s easy to think of businesses and organizations as merely static constructs. But according to GAIA Insights, an organization is actually a “living system, full of relationships that constantly evolve, rather than a machine that needs ‘fixing.’”

Regenerative leadership follows the same basic principles of sustainable, eco-friendly business practices. The only difference here: The thinking is applied to an organization’s people. It requires building trust, creating psychological “safe spaces,” and improving listening skills— important at a time when “transformation cannot come from the increasingly ineffective rational approaches to change that have been used to date.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses were focused on productivity and hitting the bottom line—and rightly so. But this global crisis taught us a lesson about the importance of human capital, and the role that every employee plays in driving organizations forward.

Unfortunately, it soon became clear that employee welfare had gone by the wayside, causing many business leaders to start asking, “What can we do to help our people now?”

The answer was obvious: It was time to re-focus on “forgotten skills” like active listening and being present as a supportive manager.


Give employees the gift of your time

The Harvard Business Review found that, in terms of the talk-listen ratio, people should listen ten times more than they talk. Perhaps it’s because researchers also found that people only remember about half of what they’ve heard immediately after someone else stops talking.

This basically tells us that listening isn’t a human’s strongest suit. Even worse, while we may think we’re listening, most of the time we’re simply mentally planning our response to what someone else is saying. So, unfortunately, most people end up dedicating a lot of time preparing to speak, instead of truly internalizing what another person is saying.

That’s likely also because our minds are constantly being pulled in many directions. Today’s media-saturated life accentuates this even more. On any given business day, for example, it has been found that “we spend 45% of our time listening, 30% of our time talking, 16% reading, and 9% writing.” But even though a good chunk of our time may be spent “listening,” it doesn’t mean that we are necessarily doing it in a focused or dedicated way.

This is why listening needs to be thought of and developed as a proper “skill” within organizations. Unfortunately, it has also been found that only a mere two percent of professionals have actually had some sort of formal education to improve listening skills. Meaning, there’s a massive skills gap here that needs addressing. This is just one of many reasons why, in speaking with Peter, he referred to “listening” as a “forgotten skill.” As humans, we’re simply not pre-wired to listen well; it takes constant practice.

As you can imagine, this has a major impact on leadership as well. In fact, many people agree that listening is the most important skill any leader can have, suggesting that the “quality of our listening determines the quality of our influence.” Whether they make time to listen to their teams daily, weekly, or on some other cadence, the strongest leaders not only make time in their schedules to listen, but they also make it a dedicated activity with no other distractions.

That alone can make a huge difference. People, in general, want to be heard. The employees within your organization are no exception to this rule. It’s also the leaders who listen that are “able to create trustworthy relationships that are transparent and breed loyalty.”

This is truly the underpinning of regenerative leadership. Leaders must take a step back and take time to hear what the people around them are saying. Because when they do, they will unlock new insights that can help them steer organizations in a more transformative direction.

I can always get better at listening…the best gift you can give yourself as a leader is to get more curious about ‘Am I actually listening to my people?

– Peter Griffiths, in Talentsoft’s “The Ins & Outs of Work” podcast

The effects of good listening

No one ever said listening was easy. However, there are a lot of good things that go hand-in-hand with improving listening skills. Here are a few that stand out to us:

1. It builds positive relationships 

The more you listen, the better you understand what the people around you need. And by being more attuned to their needs, leaders can not only build stronger relationships with their teams but also create a better overall work environment that reassures employees that they’ve got the support they need to succeed—even in the face of obstacles or other challenges.

2. It improves communication

A lot can get lost in translation. This is especially the case now when so many people are still working remotely and the majority of communication is happening through digital channels. In fact, it’s in times like these that we need to be even more focused on listening to both ensure that conversations remain productive and avoid misunderstandings that can lead to conflict.

3. It leaves room for forgiveness 

Listening creates a psychological “safe space” that takes some of the pressure off of employees for having to be perfect at all times. When leaders listen, it’s almost as if they are showing their teams that they’ve got their back even if they slip up every now and then. But it also engenders the kind of trust that, when slip-ups do happen, employees will learn from their mistakes and not repeat them again. In many ways, this opens up the door for calculated risks while building in a layer of forgiveness and empathy that keeps employees from feeling on the defensive.

If you create a safe space, you can’t not have empowered people. Because they feel safe to take more initiative and take more risks.

– Peter Griffiths, in Talentsoft’s “The Ins & Outs of Work” podcast

Leadership starts with listening

“Empty your mind and gift someone the gift of two minutes,” said Peter. And as simple and short as that may seem, in practice, listening with intent and without distraction, for any amount of time, is a lot harder to master than you might think.

But listening has always been the key to organizational transformation—and will continue to play an even greater role as the world slowly rebounds from the pandemic. We just need to think about it in terms of regenerative leadership: The more we listen to each other, the more trusted and safe spaces we create—at the workplace and in our lives, more generally speaking—and the more confident employees feel in taking more initiative and calculated risks, all without the fear of failure. The end result is greater productivity and employee happiness.

“Regenerative leadership is about being of service to others and having a positive impact on people’s lives. And that’s when your employees recognize you as a true leader.” But how can organizations equip leaders and managers with the skills to drive meaningful organizational transformation? They just need to teach them how to listen.

To learn more about regenerative leadership, tune in to our latest podcast today!

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