Do you know one of the best ways servant-leaders communicate?
By saying nothing.
Listening is one of the most important practices of servant leadership – maybe the single most important practice.
“I have a bias about this that suggests that only a true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first,” writes Robert K. Greenleaf in his landmark 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader.
“Most of us at one time or another, some of us a good deal of time, would really like to communicate, really get through to a significant level of meaning in the hearer’s experience. It can be terribly important. The best test of whether we are communicating at this depth is to ask ourselves, first, are we really listening?”
So, as Greenleaf recognizes, good listening is an essential part of a good communication process.
But wait, there’s more.
The act of listening is a way of receiving information, of course, and vital to an overall good communication process; but listening also communicates information.
Here are 6 things listening communicates:
- I respect you and your views. On the contrary, few things are as disrespectful as ignoring what someone says. It’s not disrespectful to disagree as long as we have listened carefully before doing so.
- I value learning. Listening and learning go hand-in-hand. And as US President Lyndon Johnson once said, “You aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.”
- I am smart enough to know that I am not that smart alone. The “big data” people have figured this out: All of us are smarter than any of one of us. Listening to others helps us make better decisions than we could make alone.
- I want those around me to speak up. Leadership author Andy Stanley makes the point nicely: “Leaders who refuse to listen will soon find themselves surrounded by people with nothing to say.”
- I am self-confident. Listening is a subtle means of sharing power, which is something self-confident leaders have no trouble doing. Those who lack self-confidence, however, are often the ones who won’t shut up.
- I hope to model servant leadership. Greenleaf observes that when a leader has a disposition towards listening, this disposition causes the leader “to be seen as servant first” – that is, to be seen by others as a servant-leader.
What do you think? What are we missing? Are there other things that listening communicates?
Let us know.
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** Here are some other posts on listening you might like: