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  • Caryn Bosson

Listen up, leaders

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

"Poor listening is the common cold of leadership," says emotional intelligence author Daniel Goleman. Sadly, it's all too easy for leaders to come down with a bad case of inattention.

Studies have shown that those with less power in a hierarchy are better listeners. That makes sense: when we have less power we'd better pay attention to what those with more power might be saying to us.

But, as our positional power increases, we can become more interested in what we have to say rather than what others are saying.

As nonprofit leaders, we do so at our peril.

To be successful, nonprofit leaders must make a practice of closely listening to others -- for details, for insights, for meaning -- whether from staff, board, donors, clients, or a member of the public. By doing so, we are equipped to make better decisions and better handle relationships; in short, to be better leaders.

This is especially true in a board meeting, when hearing and grasping what people are saying can mean the difference between success or derailment.

In these days of too much auditory input, when the skill of tuning things out feels like a survival tactic, listening is a skill that needs to be consciously practiced.

Here are a couple of excellent resources:

One is an inspirational TED Talk by Julian Treasure, 5 Ways to Listen Better, where he bemoans that "we are losing our listening" but offers creative ways to sharpen this essential skill.

The other is from the New York Times Smarter Living Guide, How to be a Better Listener, with tips such as "show you're listening" and "listen to learn."

Good listening can be transformational. By being a strong listener, we strengthen our relationships, allow others to find their full expression, foster the best thinking, and spark full buy-in, and commitment.

Fortunately it's something that we improve starting with our next conversation.

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