Photo by Mart

There have been many things in my life for which I have felt prepared. Being a leader of an international staff and a US-based board team was not one of them. So many of us, when thrust into positions of leadership, end up cramming as many self-help books and leadership manuals into our brains as possible. We listen to podcasts and read interviews with successful leaders. However, we often forget to do something that is both simple and completely necessary for our growth in leadership: listening. I am not talking about listening to podcasts or mentors (though they come in handy, of course). I am talking about listening to the people you have come to help and lead.

Here are a few fool-proof ways I remember to listen to those around me and how it makes me a better leader.

01 | Ask More Than Telling
This one seems like an easy one, but it is not always! In our culture of efficiency, it is easy for even the most “relational” person to get swept into task mode. Has this been completed? Have you thought about this? We look at the goal and not at the process. Though these are questions, they are not open for discussion. They are telling statements.

One of the ways I remember to listen is through this philosophy. I try to ask myself “Today, have I asked more than telling?”

It helps me put the tasks in perspective and helped me remember the importance of asking those I lead about their day, their obstacles that have come up in dealing with the task, and how I can best support them.

02 | Seek To Understand More Than Correct Problems
Understanding has become a golden cornerstone for me. When I began my fieldwork for my master’s program in international development, I started interviewing those I knew for years. I thought it would be easy because I “understood” them. It shocked me to see how little I had sought to understand from them. Learning more about your followers and colleagues makes me a better leader because it helps me know how I can help them grow and it helps me put them in positions to use their already refined skills. If I do not seek to understand someone and only attempt to address what I see on the surface as a problem, I am not getting to the root of understanding, and I am not helping my friends become all they can be.

03 | Realize There Is More Than One “Right Way.”
Working cross-culturally can be challenging for many of us. There is one way, in particular, that is all too easy for me to ignore as a challenge: the “right way.” When I first started working overseas, it honestly did not occur to me that other people might have ideas that were just as effective or more effective than my way.

Being open to not always having the answer is key. In our culture of leaders being “all knowing,” I am challenged to leave that, and my other insecurities, at the door and learn to listen to the other ways to get things done.

04 | Allow People To Sharpen You
There is this notion that leaders can only be sharpened and challenged by other leaders. I do not believe this. Everyone and I do mean everyone, has something to offer us. By turning our ear to listen, we can not only tackle the problem as a team, but we can grow one another. We must allow ourselves to be challenged and poured into and sharpened, by people under our leadership as well as those outside of us. Listening creates a way for us to be sharpened.

05 | “When We Know Better, We Do Better.”
This may seem cliché, but it is true. Not holding ourselves or any of our team-mates to a standard of perfection is essential. Through listening and being open to being wrong, we can grow as leaders and grow our team members into leaders simply thorough modeling adaptation in the midst of challenge.

At Conscious, we are inspired by stories that empower us to think differently and think big-picture, and so we set out to tell stories with the help of leaders within the social good community. You can read more stories like this when you join as a member.