Leadership at a young age: What I learned about listening

Early in my career, I managed millions of dollars of business and hundreds of people. I was very good at my job and was promoted often. Unfortunately most of the managers that I worked for were poor leaders but wonderful people. I would describe them as temperamental, moody, threatening and demanding. Fortunately or unfortunately these bosses also owned the companies.

The reason I bring this up is because as a young leader I felt privileged to be in the position I was in. I managed a $26 million dollar budget when I was 28 and was responsible for creating and marketing new products internationally.  With all that responsibility, I still felt like I had no voice in the organization, and when the  pressure was on I suffered from serious stress related problems like migraines and stomach upset because I was constantly walking on eggshells waiting for the next full blown tantrum.

One of the biggest lessons I learned when I was starting my leadership journey and I continue to apply to my current coaching practice is listening skills.

I was never a good listener, and I was often very distracted with my phone or computer when I should have been actively listening to my coworkers or employees. I learned to really listen by observing a mentor who was always available when I needed a new perspective. Often, when we get promoted we are so busy telling people what to do that we really block out good ideas and effective listening and rush everybody along or finish their sentences without given them a chance to speak.

As a manager I was totally guilty of this and was an order barker, and I’m embarrassed to say this but I only really learned to listen and the significance of it when I began coaching.  To this day I actually write a note to myself before every call or meeting to SHUT my mouth and LISTEN.

Why is effective listening so important?  Well studies have shown that employees who feel really listened to are more motivated, engaged, likely to be better problem solvers, have more RESPECT for their managers, have more creative ideas to share and have an overall better feeling about their job.

So what is active listening?  It’s full on engagement.  Step away from the computer, put down your cell phone and pay attention to the person in front of you.  You may not need to take any action, but hearing them out is important to their sense of empowerment and significance. Often, simply saying, “I appreciate your telling me this” is all that’s needed to make them feel they were heard.

The benefits of being a good listener as a leader go a long way to showing respect to those people who report to you.

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