An Impactful Leader is a Good Listener

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
Smiling teacher standing in a hallway.

Listening to others, especially those who are under your leadership is essential to building an excellent work/learning environment. To be an impactful leader, one must possess the skill of effective listening. One should never be guilty of “hearing but not listening”. So often during the height of a typical day, we are balancing so many things that listening becomes something of a “passing” rather than thoughtful consumption of what is being said. It is imperative that as leaders we develop excellent listening skills even though it is not always easy to do so. By actively listening, we can become literal doers of what we say we are going to do as opposed to simply hearers. Even the Bible teaches in the book of James 1:22 which says, But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. The bottom line is listening is just as important of a leadership skill as anything else we possess.

Why is a Good Listener Vital to Leadership?

By being a good leader, we build trust with our stakeholders. Being known as a good listener is important to our leadership as it builds trust and confidence with all stakeholders in our educational system.

Listening to our teachers gives them a voice. Teachers often have the solutions to problems that we are searching for. By taking the time to listen to our teachers, we can glean valuable insights that allow us to make more prudent decisions on a day-to-day basis. Listening to our teachers also validates them, making them feel like an important part of the unit as we tell them that they are. Further, as our most valuable resource in the trenches of the classroom, we are missing valuable, important information right from where education is happening. Actively listening to teachers is one of our most valuable tools.

Listening to our students is also important because they will often tell you the truth from a perspective that only the child can have. The old saying, “out of the mouth of babes”, is definitely an important resource. Further, by truly listening to our students, like our teachers, we build trust that what they have to say is important.

Listening to parents and other stakeholders is important not only to validate their position in the system, but also helps us to gain perspective as to the perception the outside world has to our schools. Parents, even when frustrated deserve to be heard, and listened to. Often, we can learn about things that are at least perceived as not right and take measures to correct the situation.

Learning and developing effective strategies for listening is essential and prudent for all educational leaders. Listed below are a few strategies that have proven to be effective.

Strategies for Listening

Shifting from a Reactive to a Receptive Frame of Mind

As a leader, listening must come from a position of being receptive rather than being reactive to what is being said. The leader must create a culture even within that current session where the person speaking feels as if what they have to say is important. As the leader, you do not have to agree or even act on what is told to you. However, to give a “true” open ear and listen to not only what is being said, but also listen to the heart of the speaker is a must.

Reserve Judgement Until You Have Heard Everything

So often, we pre-judge what is being said, or the person speaking to us. To effectively listen, we must keep our mind open and listen to everything before “dismissing” as unimportant what is being said to us. Often by not listening intently and openly, we give the perception that we are not interested in what is being said to us. No matter the subject or the importance to you at that time, if a person needs to talk to you, you should be willing to “hear them out” and reserve your judgement until you have heard all they have to say.

Provided Multiple Ways to Communicate with You

In our ever-changing climate, we must engage the fact that face to face speaking is only one way of communication. In fact, there are many ways to communicate and get our message across to others. The same fact is true of people needing or desiring to communicate with us as leaders. Not only should we be open to other forms of communication, but we should also let it be known what forms of communication we employ for our stakeholders to share information with us. One very important point here though is; if you employ different types of communication, you should respond promptly with “open ears” for each form of communication you use. A leader can lose credibility quickly with stakeholders by failing to “listen” to all forms of communication they employ. It is imperative to respond and to respond punctually to all forms of communication you use.

Ask Questions for Clarity

There is nothing wrong with actively asking questions while listening to stakeholders. While as noted above it is important to listen to everything first, it is also important to ask questions to clarify anything you don’t fully understand. By asking questions without putting the stakeholder on the defensive, we show that we are empathetic to and believe the importance of the subject at hand. It is important to ask questions for clarity but be respectful in the tone and way you ask questions.

The truth is, we all want to be listened to when we speak. Nobody wants to feel like they are talking in the wind and that nobody cares what we have to say. As a leader, we should always afford this respect to all our stakeholders. We must make time for and “listen” intently to what is being said to us. If we “give and ear” then we must listen. Also, remember so often listening to others can help us in solving problems or situations before they become too big to handle. Our stakeholders are valuable resources for success. Listen to them and use their words wisely.

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