Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Why Leaders Should Learn to Listen

Great leaders listen is no where near a new concept. If you’ve been around leadership conversations and development very much, you're probably familiar with it. This post isn't about convincing you that listening is leading, but about why listening matters. Conventional wisdom might tell us that listening matters because people want to be heard or because they have great ideas. Maybe its specific to a new generation or a changing economy. All of these are true on some level, but I think there are a few specific reasons why listening matters to leaders. I'll outline a few here:

When you don't answer, someone can answer.
Listening increases engagement. If you're always talking, providing answers, driving conversation, than people will just defer most of the time. Nobody wants to fight with the boss just to say something. Eventually this spills over into other areas of work. People will be less engaged overall. If want to increase engagement, make sure you provide plenty of time for others to speak.

When you don't answer, someone has to answer.
Listening increases empowerment. There are problems and opportunities that require an answer. An indirect way to empower employees is withhold input in a conversation and allow them to work through it. You have to have wisdom here and walk a fine line. You don't want people to view you as distant or disengaged, but you want them to learn by working through issues and taking risks on opportunties. People will feel more empowered under your leadership if you spend time listening to their ideas and solutions before giving your own.

When you don't answer, someone tries to answer
Listening increases learning. Learning for both you as a leader and the others around the table. What better place to first try something than in theory? When you listen it allows others to try out a hypothesis or idea on the group. You might even continue to listen and allow the group to work through the solution and mull over ideas. You could tell them where to go, but if you allow them to arrive at the conclusion themselves there is greater ownership. Incredible learning happens in these situations that may never happen if you talk too much. Let other people work through ideas and bounce things off of you or a group. It takes more time initially, but development work always takes a front end investment.

When you don’t answer, someone bravely answers
Listening increases innovation. It does this because it draws out other perspectives and ideas. It’s a diversified conversation. Your perspective, however broad, will always be more limited than that of a team or group. Your listening allows others to bravely step out and try an idea or suggestion. It creates an environment where people will take a risk and give their solution or proposal a whirl. It drives creativity.

Listening can be awkward sometimes, especially if you are typically a very outspoken leader. People may already be in a place where they just expect you to talk. They just assume you'll have an opinion that is usually correct so they don't even bother trying. They don't bother trying to think for themselves or come up with their own ideas. If that continues, you'll eventually end up with a bunch of disengaged "yes" people around you. No leader will ever be very effective with that. I experienced it myself at one point, and I realized I needed to start talking less and listening more. I'm a lot more intentional these days about letting things develop for the sake of growth, learning, and creativity. I spend more time listening and asking questions, and much less time talking.

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