The Importance of Listening in Leadership

June 13, 2018

A key element in the art of listening is to not be thinking about what you’re going to say while the other person is talking. Quieting your thoughts and really hearing the other person with an open mind sometimes requires a conscious effort.

In How to Be like Coach Wooden by Pat Williams, Coach described the importance of effective listening:

“In my opinion, being an effective leader requires being an effective listener. Success is more often attained by asking ‘how?’ than by saying ‘no.’

“Listen to those under your supervision. Really listen. Don’t act as though you’re listening and let it go in one ear and out the other. Faking it is worse than not doing it at all.”

In his book Wooden on Leadership with Steve Jamison, Coach commented on consistent listening leading to consistent improvement:

“It is very easy to get comfortable in a position of leadership, to believe that you’ve got all the answers, especially when you begin to enjoy some success.

“One of the reasons it’s extremely difficult to stay at the top is because once you get there, it is so easy to stop listening and learning.

“Progress is difficult when you won’t listen.”

Coach’s advice is simple and direct: If you wish to be heard, listen. Always seek to find the best way rather than insisting on your own way.

Related: The Art of Leadership

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Being a good listener, however, is only half of the equation.

In his book Wooden on Leadership with Steve Jamison, Coach Wooden stated his view on the subject:

“As a leader, you must be confident enough to employ individuals who aren’t afraid to speak up and voice their opinion. If you’re willing to listen, it means little if nobody is willing to talk in a substantive manner.”

In his book A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring with Don Yeager, Coach cited the method Abraham Lincoln took in building his political team as an example of this approach:

“In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s exceptional text Team of Rivals, Goodwin examines in profound depth a well-documented but not widely discussed political decision: When Lincoln was elected to the presidency, he appointed a number of former political opponents to serve as his advisers and to fill various posts.

“By selecting men who he knew disagreed with him or differed from his own platform, he assured himself that he would be confronted with legitimate challenges to his ideas, rather than finding himself in a pool of yes-men. This meant that his policies would emerge more clearly reasoned and justified.”

Coach then described how he worked with his assistant coaches:

“There were times when we differed on strategy or game philosophy. Those disagreements never got heated, but sometimes they were very intense.

“Just as I imagine Lincoln would have been, I was pleased when those challenges arose because it meant that my fellow coaches were as passionate about our team as I was. Nothing ruins a team more quickly than apathy.

“Based on Lincoln’s example, I encouraged my assistant coaches to speak up with ideas that might differ from or even completely contradict my own.

“One of the main reasons why this philosophy works, I think, is that at its core is genuine concern and regard for the other parties.

“Lincoln truly cared about the opinions of his comrades, and he truly cared about the outcomes of their discussions. But further, he treated them with respect so that they would continue to offer those opinions.”

Coach did not view challenges to his ideas as disrespect, but rather as an important requirement of his leadership strategy.

Related: The Qualities of a Humble Leader

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