The Importance of Active Listening
Only a few leaders can communicate an inspiring vision. The key to effective leadership communication is to be able to draw good ideas out of others.
If Martin Luther King, Jr. is your model of leadership, you will have a very specific idea of how leaders communicate.
You will expect leaders to be great orators, visionaries who can inspire people with emotionally stirring speeches.
You will also regard leaders as having a compelling conviction of what needs to be done. The reality in most organizations is just not like that.
It is natural to look up to heroic leaders but we disempower ourselves by expecting that we should be like them.
Taking a close look at how leaders really communicate will make it clearer how you should behave to be an effective leader yourself.
Most authorities on leadership feel it is a good idea to have a vision of some sort, but this is getting increasingly harder to do as our world becomes more complex and fast changing.
A vision is easier to formulate in the political realm where simple mantras have a lot of appeal.
In business, a strategic vision is often too vague to be very relevant.
No doubt it can be inspiring to set a vision of being number one in a market, but you don’t need to be a great orator to get this message across.
More importantly, communicating a vision is only the tip of the iceberg in modern organizations.
The bulk of leadership communications is really two-way dialogue. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes what he calls “level five leaders” as excelling at knowing what questions to ask to draw good ideas out of their teams.
The essential point is that the business world is now too complex for the leader to have all the answers.
Effective leaders now realize that managing highly skilled skilled talent in a way that gets the best out of people requires them to draw solutions out of people rather than restricting themselves to selling their own solutions.
To lead effectively, therefore, you need to be good at active listening.
This means asking questions about what other people think and probing them on the pros and cons of their proposals.
Asking people for their opinions is the best way of showing that you value them, another essential leadership trait, if you want to engage and retain key talent.
Leaders recognize the need for a lot of communication during major organizational change, but too many see such communication as one-way, keeping people informed.
People often react as much to not being consulted as to the change itself.
To communicate effectively at such times, it is essential to ask people what they see as the benefits for them of a change and how they can see implementing it, overcoming barriers and making the new process their own.