We have learned the alphabet through many venues. Some of these venues were at home with our parents, at school, or while watching educational shows such as Sesame Street, School House Rock or our purple friend Barney.

We learned the alphabet through continuous repetition, which came in many forms. Those forms included looking at the letters, their shapes, and listening to the sounds each letter made. After continuous repetition, we learned our ABC’s.

I call this process the 3 L’s of Leadership, which stands for Look, Listen, and Learn.

How do the 3 L’s apply to leadership? Just as we learned the alphabet, leadership takes the ability to Look, Listen and Learn.

Let me explain:


Look at how others perform their task by being observant. Notice how how they treat their customers, direct reports, superiors, stakeholders, and co-workers. Specifically, pay close attention to how they treat others with jobs in lower pay grades or the new employee walking thorough the doors for the very first time.

Look for better ways to improve yourself or to enhance the efficiency of the organization, to improve communication and to enhance employee morale.

Observe if the companies’ vision and values are being practiced. If not, ask yourself, what is my part? What responsibility do I have to improve the organization?

Look at your leaders and take something from them that you can use as part of your leadership toolbox. Avoid bad habits or characteristics your leaders may possess that you should avoid.

Look for people on your team who have leadership qualities that can be developed and find ways to praise them, and catch them doing things right. As the leader, someone is always watching how you act. So don’t let them down.


Listen to others with passion, energy, and for understanding. Practice active listening by focusing attention on the speaker. This can be done by repeating back what the speaker has said, suspending judgment.

Leaning towards the speaker, nodding to indicate understanding, and not being distracted while they are talking (Ex: texting on your phone, typing on the computer, or shuffling papers).

  • Listen to improve your own vocabulary, to improve processes and the work culture.
  • Listen by saying nothing.
  • Listen for key words that demonstrate action and that show leadership.

How often do we, our leaders, or direct reports use the words “me or I?” Compared to “us, we, or our” which show camaraderie instead of being self-serving as the leader. Seek out feedback from those you disagree with, ask for feedback from your worst critics, and evaluate their responses.

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Yes, one may have to practice humility, but retain what you can use to improve your leadership skills or services you provide. Keep your ears open as you “Manage By Walking Around” to hear what is going on and what people may be feeling about themselves or their work environment.

Ask questions of your direct reports, superiors, or customers on how you as a leader can improve. As the old saying goes, “Don’t ask something if you’re not ready to hear the answer.” As a mentor of mine also added, “Or willing to listen.”


Learn to consistently praise and be specific about the praise. The power of “Thank You” is underestimated and not used enough. Those who are underpaid and doing the most, hardest or undesirable work deserve the most praise. Learn to instill and show value in others, regardless of their role in the organization.

Part of learning is repeating the process until you get it right 100% of the time. Learning never stops. And as a leader, it’s not only your responsibility to develop yourself, but also to develop others.

Take time to talk about and seek out ‘lessons learned’ sessions, whether a project succeeds or fails.

Are you an advocate that the organization encourages opportunities to learn, grow and try new things?

  • Learn to collaborate with others, including your competition.
  • Learn and model for others how to manage and resolve conflict in an effective and reasonable way.
  • Learn the skill of networking and building relationships that are made of trust, loyalty, and treating each other with dignity and respect.

Look, Listen and Learn are three simple words. If applied and used consistently, our leadership journey could be made easier and we will be more effective in the eyes of those we serve as we lead.

How Do You Use the 3 L’s of Leadership?

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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Greg Martin
Greg works for Sedgwick County Department of Corrections and owns Martin Leadership & Management Development. He is a U.S. Army veteran & holds a MS in Leadership and Management from Friends University.