The “L” in Leadership: LISTEN

If there’s one thing that great leaders always do, it’s listen.

I know, you’re saying, “Of course!” It’s a commonplace of management and leadership. But it’s one of those skills that makes the difference between success and failure.

Visionary leaders who can’t get their message into action often lack this fundamental skill. They think the “L” in leadership means “license,” the freedom of the visionary to build a brave new world simply because they see so clearly and know they’re right. Great leaders know that their power comes not from themselves but from their followers — they are not sovereigns but servants.

Transformational leaders create relationships that work through changes and challenges, and the best way to keep relationships going strong is by listening. Leaders are often faced with choices that don’t please followers, but even then, a respectful dialogue (which depends on listening well) helps everyone dance with change more gracefully.



Within our organizations, it really is as if we’re on an island — our long term survival depends on paying attention to follower needs, sharing information (both ways!) and knowing both the official and unofficial version of “what’s going on.”

A leader who listens can: 1.frame new ideas so they’ll be persuasive, 2. find the right timing for necessary changes, and 3. align his or her agenda with the needs of the whole organization.

Here are three strategies for listening with aloha.

Listening with aloha means being present in a conversation, honoring the relationship between you and your followers, and building good will rather than focusing on strategies to push your agenda forward.

1. Take a deep breath, relax your hands and look in each other’s eyes. You are both people, with gifts and skills, weaknesses and strengths, and an important job to do.  Honor that.

2. Ask questions — find out what s/he’s thinking, how s/he’s feeling. Each of you deserves equal space in the conversation, even though you may have more power in the relationship.

3. When you find yourself pushing your agenda, take a deep breath (again) and stop pontificating! Unless you’re giving a speech, effective communication is two-way!  Summarize your position (if you must) then repeat strategy #2.


  1. […] leaders LISTEN, and ENGAGE FULLY, they’ll be ready to ASK QUESTIONS — the third key to leading through […]


  2. […] According to my practical lexicon, that includes (follow the links to find out more…)  LISTENING, ENGAGING FULLY, and ASKING […]


  3. […] and forget the purpose of leadership. She notes what a lot of us leadership folks are saying, that the best leaders are listeners.  Check her […]


  4. […] Say what you are thinking. Say what you think others might be thinking. State the problem clearly. Listen carefully. Engage in open dialogue. Ask open-ended questions. Invite contrary opinions. Challenge assumptions. […]


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