Personal BrandingSkills & Development

Do Successful Leadership Start With Listening?

What makes a good leader? Are they born with leadership qualities? Or do they build them over time? What exactly is it? You must have had these questions in your mind at some point. You would have seen some people killing it in the lead roles while others seem to struggle. Building relationships and gaining success requires listening. Meanwhile, it may appear like some aren't just cut for leadership roles. So, what sets successful leaders apart? Well, there is one thing. Besides being fearless, all successful leaders are great listeners. It is a crucial and twisted skill not many people can master. That is because people mostly listen to respond and not with the intent to understand. You must have experienced this yourself. In this fast-paced era, you listen to others without being fully attentive, present and open. This is one of the reasons people fail to master this skilful leadership characteristic. This blog will see how good listening can make you a great leader.

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  • Only 10% of people have natural leadership talent in them. (Gallup)
  • 80% of companies are struggling with a leadership talent shortage. (Mercer Mettl)
  • 30% of companies fail to create functional leadership development programs. (Mercer Mettl)
  • Only 22% of employees strongly believe company leaders have a clear direction for the company. (Gallup)
  • When leaders focus on a team's strengths, profits rise by 29%. (Gallup)
  • The number of female CEOs rose by 2% in 2020 to 7.8%. (Biz Women)
  • Women are more effective than men in 84% of critical leadership competency areas. (Harvard Business Review)
  • 77% of millennials consider their employer's ability to provide leadership development "Weak”. (Human resource professionals association)
  • 63% of millennials believe their companies aren't developing their leadership capabilities. (Human resources professionals association)
  • 40% of managers believe that company leaders are very transparent. But only 22% of employees feel the same. (Tiny pulse)
  • 59% of managers supervising one or two employees received no management training. (West Monroe)
  • 42% of managers developed their leadership style through observation alone. (West Monroe)
  • Companies choose the wrong candidate for management positions 82% of the time. (Gallup)
  • 3 in 4 employees consider effective, transparent communication the essential characteristic any leader should have. (Jouany & Martic)
  • According to a survey, every leader should possess several soft skills such as empathy(17%), humility(15%), self-awareness(7%), and the ability to listen(7%). (Morris)
  • A good leader should appreciate his followers, as over 35% of employees cited their need for more recognition from their superiors. (Achievers)
  • A clear sense of purpose is crucial for 82% of organisational leaders. However, only 42% have reported that their organization’s purpose statements deliver reports. (McKinsey)
  • Traditional leaders are being replaced. Modern leaders use mentoring, connection and employee recognition to inspire 86% more great work. (O.C Tanner)
  • Employees experience a 57% decrease in burnout when their leaders connect them with their organizations' accomplishments, purpose, and colleagues. (O.C Tanner)

Significance of Listening

We are sure you would have never thought listening to be a skill. Don't worry; you are not alone. Almost everyone takes listening for granted. Many often confuse listening with hearing. Listening involves consciously hearing what the other person is trying to say, digesting it and understanding it to the full extent. Active listening is a passive process. If you don't listen to people, you will never be able to know what they are trying to convey. If you don't understand that, you will not be able to respond appropriately. Even in a professional setting, active listening leads to better understanding, greater customer satisfaction and fewer mistakes with excellent productivity. It also makes you more empathetic and helps you build stronger relationships with other people. Also, carefully listening to people will help you make more sound decisions as a person. Therefore, good leaders must be active listeners.


Why is Listening So Important?

Listening is an act that goes beyond hearing. Hearing is a physical process but listening, on the other hand, involves many things. It requires you to put in more effort and concentration. Successful leaders are often those people who have mastered the art of active listening. Some reasons why listening is crucial for everyone are-

  • It enables you to understand better what the speaker is trying to say. That, in turn, helps you build stronger relationships with people.
  • When the speaker feels he is being listened to and understood, they become more confident conveying their message. That results in a more meaningful and beneficial conversation between both parties.
  • Active listening helps you gather all the necessary facts and not jump to any random conclusion.
  • It decreases the chances of any misunderstandings, which improves your productivity.
  • Suppose you listen to others with complete concentration. That, in turn, helps you gather more information and understand what the other person is trying to say.
  • You can read between the lines. Conflicts are bound to happen in your personal life and professional life. The only way they can be resolved is by talking. For example, if an upset client comes to you and starts venting about the wrong your organisation has done to them, things will accelerate if you reciprocate with the same energy. On the other hand, if you listen to them calmly, they will feel heard and start to calm down automatically.
  • As you have a better understanding of things, listening tends to increase your work efficiency.
  • It helps you put yourself into the shoes of others and gain a new outlook on things and your surroundings.

Related Article: Why are Empathy and Compassion Important in Leadership?


How Can You Be an Active Listener?

Listening is a tricky skill to master. But once you have mastered it, it can transform you as a person. Let's look at some ways you can become an active listener.

Pay attention

In this fast-paced world where everyone is on their phones, scrolling through social media, many people find it difficult to pay attention to things. You must have felt the same sometimes. So, the first step in becoming an active listener is to give your undivided attention to the speaker. You must acknowledge their messages and make them feel heard. To fully pay attention to the person speaking, you must look at them directly and try to read their body language. You should also put aside any distracting thoughts in your mind and elements in your environment. If you carefully listen to the speaker, you will be better positioned to respond to them appropriately.

Show the speaker you are listening

You don't want the speaker to feel that they are just blabbering in front of you, or maybe you are not listening to them. So, you must use your body language and gestures to show that you are engaged and are listening to the person. You can do so by making sure you are maintaining the correct posture. You can nod your head occasionally, smile or use some other facial expressions so that the speaker feels you are interested in listening to them. You can also encourage the speaker to continue by passing small comments like "oh", "uh-huh", and "yes" in between the conversation.

Don't interrupt

It is considered rude if you don't let someone speaking finish themselves. It also wastes the time of both parties and doesn't enable the listener to fully understand the message the speaker is trying to put forward. So, you must let the speaker finish first. If you have any questions or counterarguments to make, do it when the speaker gives you the chance to speak. Refrain from jumping to any conclusion or what the speaker is trying to say next. Try to focus on listening to the person!

Withhold any judgement

It is easy to jump to conclusions. But a true leader is always patient and listens to people carefully without imposing their opinions. You must try to remain neutral and non-judgmental when listening to other people. When someone is telling you something, you must make that person feel safe. You should not shame, criticise or blame them for anything. You must work upon yourself so that people feel safe and secure talking to you.

Respond appropriately

Active listening is also about gaining all the necessary information. So, don't be afraid to speak! You will get your chance to present your arguments/opinions and ask questions. But first, let the other person finish talking. Treat the other person respectfully and speak to them politely and calmly. Be candid and ask for clarifications on things you want. Give the person constructive feedback and be honest with them. You can even summarise what the speaker has said, so there is no room for misunderstanding. That would ensure the speaker you were listening to them and help you understand things a little better and respond appropriately.


Should You Practise Active Listening?

Yes, definitely! Active listening is a skill that holds value in many social settings. Though many believe hearing and listening are synonymous, these terms are very different. Listening encompasses hearing and understanding what the other person is trying to say. If you wish to be a successful leader, actively listening is the first thing you should work on. If you do so, you can have better and stronger relationships with other people. It makes you more approachable and open to the opinions and ideas of others. It also helps you grow as a person and become more empathetic. Lastly, if one actively listens to others, they can understand things better. It then decreases the chances of any misunderstanding and increases overall productivity.

Must Read: How to Improve Your Leadership Skills?


Andy Stanley rightly said leaders who don't listen would eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say. You can become a leader, but to become a successful leader, you must practice the art of active listening. If people feel heard and understood, they will be willing to share their new ideas and opinions with you. These ideas can, in turn, help the business grow, make you a better leader or even help you understand a few things better. Active listening can improve your productivity as well. That is so because you have a better understanding of things, which decreases the chances of any mistake. It also helps you provide proper feedback and respond appropriately. It makes you more empathetic toward people and become a better communicator.



1. How can one pay more attention when someone is talking to them?

Paying attention is essential to learning if one wants to become an active listener. Though it looks easy, it is not. Here are some ways you can pay more attention when someone is talking.

  • Put your phone or any other distracting things aside.
  • Look at the speaker directly.
  • Improve your body posture.
  • Don't prepare for a rebuttal.
  • Try to focus on the person's body language.

When should one speak if they want to add something while conversing with someone? One may want to speak or add something while the other person is talking. When that happens, one should make a mental note of what they want to add. Abstain from interrupting the person in between and wait for the other person to finish talking.

2. Is active listening a difficult skill to learn?

Yes. Active listening isn't easy to learn. It requires one to be more focused, present, and understand the other person. All of those skills are difficult to master.

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