It Pays to Listen

From personal experience, some of the most frustrating times of my life, in and out of work, are when I wanted to communicate something, but the leaders were not listening to me.   As a leader, listening benefits both yourself and your audience.

Dick Bass was a successful businessman, in the energy sector, and he also loved to challenge himself with climbing mountains. He reached the summit of Everest twice, and is the first person in the world to climb the Seven Summits which are the highest peak in each of the seven continents.

You can imagine a man like that has many stories to tell. One day, he was on a flight, and he started telling his seatmate many of these stories for the entire duration of the flight. As they were landing, he realized that he had totally dominated the conversation, not even learning the man’s name or occupation.   He asked the seatmate for his name and occupation. Turns out, it was Neil Armstrong.

Leaders need to listen. Some of the least inspiring moments that I’ve personally experienced is when my boss is not listening to me during a 1:1 session. I’ve seen managers who keep one eye on their screen, not fully engaged with our conversation. The message that I received was that the next email or Slack message to the manager was more important that what I was saying. Yes, this also includes those managers with smart watches; all of your screens apply.

Leading today largely involves collaboration between teams, and one of the key traits of an effective leader is one that listens, so that all team members have their opinions heard. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the key traits of an effective leader – which includes listening.

Neil Armstrong was famous for being quiet and not wanting to talk much about his accomplishments. He probably enjoyed listening to Dick Bass talking about his climbing feats. However, when it comes to your team, don’t be like Dick Bass on that flight.

Neil Armstrong's official NASA photo

Neil Armstrong’s official NASA photo