Focus on Leadership: Learning to Listen

As leaders it can become easy to get distracted by the noise in our own heads. We spend a lot of time thinking and praying about the mission and work of our ministries, so we will also have lots of ideas about how to fulfill our mission. One of the key skills that will help us actually do our work well is setting aside our own thoughts and ideas to be able to truly listen to what others are saying.

Listening well matters because we are not the only stakeholders in our ministry work. Those we are serving and serving with care about the outcomes of our work as much as we do. And they may have ideas that work with or are even better than our own. But when we are passionate about something, we can be so eager to put our own ideas out into the world that we don’t make space in our conversations and in our minds for other possibilities. We may miss something amazing as we get caught up in our own passion for the work.

Imagine entering conversations without foregone conclusions about the outcomes, without the need to spend more time talking than listening, and with the idea that every person in the conversation is necessary to make it all work.

With no preconceived outcomes we can dream as big as we need. As ideas pop into your own mind, you don’t need to shout them out, but you can take down some quick notes so you can keep focusing on what others are saying. Encourage others to do the same. Share when it is your turn. If you are the head of a team or project, think carefully about who is invited to the conversations we are having. If you approach a conversation with the intention of valuing each voice, you are more likely to listen carefully to what they are saying. All of these things will not only make us better listeners, but do more collaborative and creative work. And that kind of work perfectly fits our Presbyterian ordination vows, which guides our leadership.

When we think about good listeners, we have no better example that Jesus himself. Jesus was so connected with the people he met that he not only answered their spoken needs, but their unspoken ones. We may not be as good at this as Jesus, but with practice we can improve our empathy, our care for community that guides us to listen to the people we need to be listening to, and the ability to together craft our words and our work to best answer the needs that have been expressed. And it will allow us to ask better questions when we need to understand better or more fully what someone is saying rather than assuming we totally get it.

Listening makes us better leaders not only because we will do what we are called to do in better ways, but also because it shows we care about those we are serving. And when we show we care, people are more likely to follow.