A couple of days ago, I was asked to chat to the 2014 FedUni Student Senate about the Leadership Program, and how we can support them to carry out their new roles most effectively. As part of that, I gave them my top leadership tips, which included: not being able to do everything alone and building relationships with the network of other student leaders around campus.
My final tip, upon reflection, fit conveniently into both of the other two: Listening.
On the radio on the way home a few days ago, I heard a great quote:
“These days, we spend most of our time waiting for the other person to finish talking”.
This sums up a lot of what I think about human interaction in general and people’s conceptions of leadership in particular. We rarely take the time to listen selflessly and agenda-free to someone else, asking questions to prompt them and being comfortable with natural pauses in speech. In general I like to think before I speak, but often I find myself interrupting others in my haste to agree with, differ from or add to what they have to say.
It would be pretty lazy and facile of me to blame this purely on Social Media, but it, or rather any communications technology advance, probably contributes. In a world where we’re encouraged to ‘talk’ in 140 characters or less, and where comments are instant and expected, have we lost the art of listening? Often when reading the news online, I reach the comments section and the first comment is irrelevant, from someone who has clearly not even read the article but looked at the headline and just wanted to be first in. I see this reflected in conversations – have you ever spoken to someone who replies with something pretty unrelated? They’ve probably just been listening for key words, and thinking about their own response – the speech version of just skimming the headlines.
Maybe it’s just human nature, and nothing to do with technology? Are we just hard-wired to care about ourselves more than others?
I’m not generally one to hark back to the ‘good old days’, but I think we need to reclaim the attention-span, rein in the ego and start listening again. If you don’t listen to someone (and I mean genuinely listen – taking time out, shutting up and concentrating) you haven’t earned the right to speak on their behalf. How can you represent someone with honesty and integrity if you don’t know what they care about, or if you try to impose your own agenda on them?
Something I think all elected bodies could do with remembering (Profound soundbite warning):
You may be the voice of [the student body/your constituency/a generation], but you are also their ears…
Do you agree that listening is so important in Leadership?
Is listening really a dying art? If anyone has some stats or studies on optimal active listening times and how they’ve changed over time I would genuinely love to see them.
What problems are there with adopting a “He who shouts loudest…” model within organisations?
Do you have any practical tips on developing listening skills?
Please feel free to share!