In a previous article, I introduced an upcoming article series titled the Top 10 Barriers to Leadership. This first installment is about Listening Strategies.

Through minimizing and/or eliminating the most common barriers to leadership we can easily accelerate the growth of our personal and professional leadership skills and leadership qualities.

With this goal in mind, here is the purpose of this series:

  • To be aware of leadership frustrations
  • To uncover our blind spots
  • To develop new habits
  • To become better leaders with everyone
  • To make a difference with those we lead

The Top Frustrations

I’ve found that people can really help us become great leaders if we work on their recommendations and suggestions for fine-tuning our leadership qualities.

The Top 10 Barriers to Leadership is not something I made up – it is a list of 10 leadership barriers that are repeated to me over and over from business owners, managers, employees, parents, customers, strangers, neighbors, friends, co-workers, teachers, preachers, and people I meet on the airplane.

These barriers to leadership are ongoing trends of the top frustrations people have with other people that are leading them in some aspect of their life.

Barrier #1

“They just don’t listen, hear me, or understand!” “I don’t know why they bother to ask my opinion because they don’t listen to what I have to say!”

Have you had this same feeling? It is frustrating when we don’t feel heard. When I don’t feel heard, I don’t feel respected.

Are you guilty of not listening?

Be honest. How recently have you:

  • Interrupted someone while he or she is talking?
  • Interjected your words of wisdom?
  • Increased the pace and tone of your message?
  • Thought about something else why someone is talking?
  • Looked out the window or starting texting?
  • Thought you have already figured out what the person is saying before they finish their first sentence?

I know, I’m guilty at times because it takes a lot of energy to listen!

It is like going to the gym and working out. Do I really have to listen now? Sometimes it even hurts to listen. To be a great listener you have to exercise your focus, patience, body language, and attitude. Yes, to really listen it takes discipline and it can be very fatiguing!

Wow! If we aren’t genuinely listening to others how do we build trust? Get results? Be effective leaders? Listening truly is a topic to reflect upon.

Listening Strategies

Because we have so many things going on in our head and we operate at our pace and within our time frame, the following reminders will help all of us become better listeners.

Take a minute and review this list, and share these listening skills and strategies with others.

Look Interested

No multitasking. Stop what you are doing and give great eye contact, relax your jaw, and look approachable.

Even if you are an auditory learner you must face the person that is talking to you. Also, texting and looking at your phone while people are talking is very rude – even in group meetings.

Be Silent

Zip it! Refrain from talking while people are trying to tell you what is on their mind. Silence is golden in order to understand the content and intent of the message.

When we interrupt or start to talk we come across as defensive. Yes, I know this is very hard to do but we all need to work at not defending ourselves when we need to be listening.

Stay Focused

Pay attention! Refrain from analyzing the message or making judgments about the message or the messenger. If you start to veer off and get distracted quickly get back on track with the conversation. Tune in.

Ask Clarifying Questions

Clarifying questions are “tell me more” questions. Formulate questions that start with “what” not “why”.

Why questions come across as an interrogation which stops the flow of communication. Why questions are great for solving technical problems but do not serve us well when our goal is to listen.


Be sincere. Listening is not about being nice! When we sincerely listen, we are respectful to others.

By finding out what is between the right and left ears of the messenger we personally gain a lot. We build relationships, influence, and gather important information.

Get in Rhythm

Have a 50/50 dialogue. The true measure of a great listener is a person that participates in the conversation. A great listener talks (asks questions/acknowledges) 50% of the time and the messenger talks 50% of the time.

A fantastic dialogue has a rhythm to it – a flow. Both parties are in sync with the conversation without awkward moments. This works even if it is a topic that is unpopular.

Set a Goal

WIIFM? Right up front ask yourself, “What Is In It For Me to listen to this person?” This sounds very selfish but is common knowledge that we will only become better listeners if we have a reason or motive to listen.

If your answer is to help yourself become a better leader you will succeed. If you don’t have a reason to listen, you really won’t do anything different.

What Did You Learn?

I hope you have gained some insight for becoming a genuine listener from these listening strategies.

Practice, practice, practice. Discuss this article with people at home and at work. Have them tell you how you are doing (remember to listen). The more you practice the easier it gets!

How Can Leaders Improve Their Listening Skills?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.