Great Leaders are Great Listeners

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What qualities does a great leader possess?

Talent?

Charisma?

Confidence?

Typically, great leaders are smart. They’re good connectors. They’re good decision makers and, even more importantly, decision managers.

In most of our thinking about great leadership, we often skip over one particular characteristic that has a surprising influence on a leader’s ability to lead better… great leaders are great listeners.

I still remember the funny movement my stomach made when Pastor Rick Warren asked me to address the staff at Saddleback Church about the in’s and out’s of using social media to minister to more people. (This was 2010, by the way – digital ages ago.)

There were several hundred people on staff who would gather in the Refinery theater weekly to hear Pastor Rick share lessons about leadership and observations about his vision for Saddleback. And on this particular week, he asked if I’d speak to everyone in his place.

Speaking to hundreds of people doesn’t get me too worked up, and I felt confident in my knowledge of the content. What had me a little stressed out was a single person who would be there, in the audience listening. Yeah. Pastor Rick Warren.

Pastor Rick is one of my generation’s greatest pastors and Bible teachers. He has a way with words that’s a bit magical. He can state profound things in extremely simple ways and systematize the most complex concepts to be digestible. And I’d be speaking to him.

When I stepped up on the stage and started sharing what I’d prepared, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye… Pastor Rick had gotten out a notebook and a pen. He kept his eyes on me throughout the talk. He took notes. He stepped up on stage after I was finished and echoed some of my major points back to the rest of the staff.

In other words… he listened.

I’ve noticed, over the years, that the smartest people in the room are rarely the most vocal. The best leaders don’t always take charge, contrary to conventional wisdom.

I think it’s because the best leaders know their limitations. They stay real about the fact that they don’t have all the answers. And therefore, they are teachable. And when we’re teachable, we listen.

If you want to lead well today, go on what you know. But if you want to lead well long term, admit you don’t know it all and commit to listening and learning daily.

Evaluate your own listening skills…

Do I tend to make eye contact with whomever is speaking and respect them with my attention?

Do I regularly consume valuable content rather than simply being a producer?

Do I invite a diversity of voices to speak into the direction I’m taking?

Great leaders are learners, and learning requires listening. So open your ears, take notes, and learn to lead a little better!