Why the Best Leaders Are Good Listeners

Why the Best Leaders Are Good Listeners

Amy Snow 6 min read

Warm Up

Supervisor: “Hey, [Coworker] is behind on her calls and is helping some volunteers right now. I need you to help with her calls.”

Employee: “I actually spoke with her 20 minutes ago and am helping with her list right now.”

Supervisor: “Whatever you are working on isn’t a priority right now. You already finished your calls today and she needs help.”

Employee: “Yeah, I’m doing that. This is her list I’m calling through right now.”

Supervisor: “I didn’t ask for excuses. Go get a list from [Coworker] and help her out. End of discussion!” Perhaps not surprisingly, this supervisor oversaw three different offices and whichever one she was physically in at the time always ended up with the worst production that day.


Ever experience something like this with someone you worked for? Have you ever been that person?

When we hear without really listening, our leadership will very likely suffer—and so will those we lead. Can you be a leader without being a listener? Yes, you can. Can you be a good leader without being a listener? Absolutely not.

The power and importance of listening cannot be overstated.

Yet the art of listening is getting more difficult with the constantly growing variety of distractions vying for our attention—especially those coming through technology. We are always accessible, seemingly on call 24/7.

We need to start regaining control of our lives—particularly our attention and our schedules—if we want to lead in a manner worthy of being followed. The world will not collapse if we don’t answer every text, tweet, email and phone call within minutes or even hours of when we get it. Constant and immediate response time on these communication platforms is having a far greater impact on us than we probably realize, pulling us away from truly listening—and from truly leading.

So what is it about listening that makes us more effective leaders?

Listening helps us understand those we lead and build a connection with them that goes beyond the surface level.

Listening helps increase our learning potential. Talk show host Larry King said, “I remind myself every morning: nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” What nuggets of gold are within your team that you can learn just by asking questions and listening to what they say?

Listening keeps problems from escalating to an unmanageable state. You hear what isn’t being said, allowing your intuition to provide insight toward addressing the real issue at hand.

Listening builds trust. When people feel listened to and understood, it builds respect and trust. Richard Branson says, “Any organization’s best assets are its people, and if you are ready to help the team to achieve its goals, you can start gathering information on how to move things along just by paying attention to what employees are saying.” When members of your team see your responsiveness, feel valued, and trust you with their ideas, they will keep bringing them forward.

Bottom line—when a leader listens, the team gets better.

In the book of James, we discover admonitions that affirm the vital importance of listening.

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19).

Our first response should involve being quick to listen so we gain understanding; it helps us not jump to conclusions; it gives us opportunity to pray for wisdom; it allows us to ask good questions for further clarity; and it prevents us from reacting and saying something we’ll regret. Hence, it follows that we will be slow to speak and slow to become angry.

How have you seen this play out with a teammate or a coach?

Whether in the heat of battle, preparation for a big competition or in a conversation in the locker room or in an office, how well are you listening?

What can you learn from what you have done well and where you have fallen short?

When we take time to truly listen, reflect and evaluate, it also empowers us to take powerful and intentional action which is vital in every facet of life—spiritual, mental, emotional and physical.

James 1:22-25 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.”

Listening well combined with wise action paves the way for you to lead yourself and your team with greater effectiveness!

“One of the greatest gifts you can give anyone is the gift of attention.” Jim Rohn


Some practical ways to help you become a better listener and increase your effectiveness!

Turn off your phone & put it away, close your laptop: Engage with the person you are with. Make eye contact.

Create space in your day: Give yourself margin throughout your day instead of booking one thing after another. This way you can have time to reflect and fully engage with the person you are meeting with versus feeling like you just have to get through another meeting—and wind up not really listen.

Ask more questions: How many times have you been in a conversation when you were just waiting for the person to finish so you could share what you wanted to say? Be curious about them. Asking good questions shows you care and that you are listening—and helps them think more deeply about what they’re trying to share.

Take a “listening audit”: First, take an honest look at your current approach to communication. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I open to other people’s ideas?
  2. Am I open to changing my opinion based on new information?
  3. Am I actively seeking feedback and input in order to move the team forward?
  4. Do I act defensively when criticized, or do I listen openly for the truth?
  5. Do I ask questions in every conversation?

At the end of each day, reflect on the day’s interactions—every meeting, team and coach interaction, conference call, phone conversation, even texts and emails—and figure out the percentage of time that you spent listening versus the time you spent speaking. How much of the day were you actively listening? At the end of the week, tally up your percentages and get an average. Set a goal to increase your listening percentage in the upcoming week. Make sure you track your progress.

To learn more about Amy’s one-on-one or group coaching for current athletes and athletes in transition, as well as her leadership training, go to www.amysnowcoaching.com.