A Simple Test to Tell You Whom to Follow

Here’s a quick test of a leader’s skill. Does the leader look into the eyes of the person speaking to him or her? If so, that leader is likely to be attentive, interested, and concerned about the needs of the team member. If not, the leader is probably distracted, unconcerned, or—worse yet—self-absorbed.

Good leaders take people seriously. They pay attention to words, inflection, and emotion expressed by others.

Beyond making eye contact—a critical clue to engagement—good leaders listen to input from a variety of sources. Here are four key “voices” that every leader must pay attention to.

Leaders Listen to Associates

They may not act on every suggestion, but they listen with an ear to hear fresh methodologies. Good leaders understand that the concept that will propel them upward may very well come from someone below them on the organizational chart. They welcome suggestions from teammates.

Leaders also listen to complaints. Leaders understand that emotions left unvented can be become stifling at best, explosive at worst. Unresolved problems might very well suffocate the efforts of the team. Leaders value the feedback of both teammates and critics.

Leaders Listen to Unspoken Voices

They realize that a problem may be present for some time before a crewmember has the courage to voice it as an issue. Leaders look for body language, expression, and other nonverbal clues to meaning. Like a well-trained mechanic evaluating the function of a racing engine, a leader hears the sounds that others miss.

Leaders Listen to the Customer

Every organization has customers whether it is involved in sales or not. Customers are those whom the organization serves, whether they are called clients, parishioners, donors, or attendees. Good leaders listen to their constituents to find out whether their needs are being met. They pay careful attention to the feedback of those on the outside of the organization.

Leaders Listen for the Future

Having lived beside the railroad tracks as a child, I know this, on a clear night, you can hear a train coming from a long way away. The sound is faint at first, almost imperceptible. But a careful listener can hear it. Leaders listen for the train that has not yet arrived. They look for trends that are just over the horizon; their ears are tuned for changes in the economy, the culture, and even in politics. Leaders hear change coming long before it arrives.

Learn to listen, and you will learn to lead.

What insights have you learned about the power of listening? Share your answer on Twitter or Facebook!