Why Is It So Hard For Leaders To Listen?

Justine loves to talk. She loves to give advice. She loves to be in charge. The issue is that Justine’s team finds her to be somewhat overbearing. To be a more impactful leader, Justine is going to have to change her behaviour!

I suggested to Justine that she starts to talk less and listen more. She stared at me in horror. “But I’m a terrible listener”, she admitted. “Plus, my team works at such a fast pace that I need to be giving instructions and putting out fires all the time.”

Justine’s leadership style is not uncommon.

Why is it so hard for so many leaders like Justine to listen?


Well, lots of leaders are so used to being in charge and being in control that they actually don’t know how to listen. They have never been taught the skill nor have they spent time developing it.

In my coaching course, which is one of the core modules of theMosaic Mastering Leadership Program, I facilitate a fun activity. In this activity, each person is required to listen to their partner speak, without talking themselves, for one minute. Typically, 90% of the participants struggle through this exercise. They find it extremely difficult to listen, without interrupting their partner, for a mere 60 seconds.

Listening is a skill like any other, for example playing golf or learning to play the violin. It requires effort, patience and practice. When it comes to listening, the hard work is worth the effort. Active listening has numerous benefits including:

  1. It is a great way to connect with people so thatthey really feel heard. Taking the time to turn off your inner voice and be present for another person is very powerful. It shows others that you care about their opinions, perspectives or feelings. It signals to others that they matter.
  2. It helps create a deeper understanding of an issue or problem. When you stop to really listen, you are able to “peel away the onion”. Instead of getting a high level understanding of an issue or problem, you are able to delve deeper and truly understand the nuances of any situation.
  3. It leads to better solutions to issues or problems. Once you have taken the time to really listen, you will have a clearer sense of the problem. This means that you will be able to resolve the issue in a more holistic or appropriate manner.

Are you a good listener? If so, leverage this skill because it is a rare commodity out there. If you are not a good listener, take the time to develop this skill. Start by putting your stop watch on in your one-on-one meetings and don’t interrupt your collagues for a minute. See over time if you can increase your stopwatch to two or three minutes. Tell your team you are working on this skill and ask them for their feedback. Then listen, really listen to what they have to say!

About The Author

Over the past 18 years, as a talent management and performance consultant, Vanessa Judelman has worked with organizations such as Motorola, Torstar Digital, Blakes, GlaxoSmithKline, Research in Motion, Campbell’s Soup, and CIBC. Most recently she built, led and managed the organizational development and learning department at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board. Vanessa also worked as a consultant at MICA Consulting Partners. She has a background in theatre arts, a master’s degree in human resource management and training from Leicester University and a bachelor of arts and education degree from McGill University.

First published in: mosaicpd.com

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