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The Most Important Skill to have as a Leader

There are many articles, blog posts and debates out “there” that argue what the greatest skill is that you need to be an effective leader. I have read, heard and seen a variety of opinions on this over the years and truth be told, most of the information make great cases for the (combo of)skills that make up a great leader. Things like:

• Humble
• Calm under pressure
• Decisive
• Empathetic
• Balanced approach
• Even-tempered
• Direct
• Discreet
• Confident
• Ability to inspire others

The list goes on and on and can be endless as there is no debating that “positive” qualities and skills are associated with being a good leader. To me, and based on my experience, there is one skill that sets all great leaders apart. That skill is the ability to LISTEN. Far too many individuals in leadership roles spend too much time doing the opposite – talking and telling. When you really think about it, your ability to listen will truly Listeningmake you a great leader for many reasons as it ties into everything you do as a leader.

At its core, when you effectively listen, you are taking in information. This in turn allows you to make better decisions as you have more information at your disposal with which to make these decisions. Additionally, when you are listening, you are becoming in tune to the situation at hand and thus are able to be empathetic when dealing with your direct reports. You are also able to more effectively coach your staff and make them better at what they do when you are listening to them instead of telling them what to do.

By utilizing great listening skills and leveraging them as a strength, you are also able to more effectively engage your staff as you consider their ideas, thoughts and inputs – thus improving employee engagement and communication. In turn, you will also get a better feel for which of your staff have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to most effectively do their jobs, so in turn, you will be able to better performance management your entire team.

Effective listening also gives you credibility as an enabler of change, which is a core quality (and requirement) of a strong leader. Think about it – leaders who effectively listen to their people are the ones that are able to turn that information around and engage others in the change process. They are able to overcome the true obstacles in the way of progress and change and thus are able to engage all stakeholders in the change process, thus getting buy-in at all the critical stages.

The ability to listen allows true leaders to more effectively manage team conflict and improve group dynamics. By truly listening to what your team is telling you, and by focusing on the issues not the people themselves, you can provide true leadership to your teams through effective conflict resolution skills and thus achieve a more productive and cohesive work unit.

Strong listening skills will also make you more adept at performance management and in developing your employees. Strong listening skills means you are able to make a connection between employee development (desires) and organizational need(s), thus providing a win-win solution. If you are not listening, you essentially end up telling employees what they are going to do with their careers. This may be a short term win for the organization, but will ultimately be a loss when that employee leaves due to feeling stagnated in their role.

Finally, by displaying strong listening skills, you will instill confidence in your staff. Your staff want to know that they have a voice and have been heard. Good leaders, that are strong listeners, are able to balance when it is time to take this approach vs. when a decision simply has to be made. By being an active listener on a regular basis, employees are more accepting (and sometimes appreciative) when a leader simply has to make the tough decisions. You have established organizational “cred” through your previously displayed listening skills so employees won’t doubt that you made the best possible decisions when push comes to shove, while considering all the alternatives.

What about you? What do you feel is the most important skill for a leader? Does everything tie back to being a strong listener? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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3 Responses

  1. […] Listen to this, leaders Is the most important leadership skill calmness under pressure? Decisiveness? How about ability to inspire? Armchair HR Manager Scott Boulton says those are all important, but the key leadership skill is the ability to listen. The payoff? Better employee engagement, conflict management, performance management and improved personal and organizational credibility. The most important skill to have as a leader […]

  2. It all depends which whom you’re talking. Sometimes, you encounter situations whereby talks are not focused on the subject matter and do more harm than benefit. Using your best judgement you may avoid listening to the individual.

    • Thanks for the feedback Hassan. My thinking in identifying listening skills as most critical is that in order to be truly listening, you are receiving and understanding the message (active listening) while engaging with your employee. This way, if the focus is on truly listening, it reduces the risk of not focusing on the right subject matter. Perhaps to further state, it requires listening and then the use of effective probing questions to truly understand the message.

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