Listening matters. And it’s now more important than ever before – particularly for leaders.

Modern life shows us that listening is becoming something of a lost art. With increased volumes of communication over social media and phones, people are talking a lot more, and listening a lot less.

Leaders who have listening skills are not only seen as much more effective, but also tend to learn more from the people around them. While many CEOs can get caught up in a bubble where they receive very few unfiltered inputs (who realistically wants to tell the boss bad news?) those who proactively listen can tackle organisational challenges head-on.

Throw in the changes and challenges a post-pandemic workplace brings, and it’s clear that employee demands and expectations are radically different to what they once were. This means that a leader’s ability to listen is even more of a differentiator.

So listening – and particularly the ability to proactively and intentionally listen – can become a huge competitive advantage for leaders when practised well.

Ways to get better at listening when you’re at the top

So how can senior leaders get better at listening and gain the deep insights that they need to achieve competitive advantage? 

Simplicity is key, which is the philosophy we carry through our approaches when coaching and providing insights to senior leaders.

Creating space for listening

Most senior executives have jam-packed diaries and overflowing inboxes to deal with. But if you make time to listen – to your immediate team, the employees in your business, and your regular customers or clients – you will gain deep learning and insight.

Listening to a multitude of voices

It’s all too easy to keep listening to the same voices.  Embracing a greater diversity of thinking is much more likely to bring you new ideas and perspectives on critical issues. 

Asking more questions, talking less

CEOs who ask simple, but great questions tend to be good listeners and gain the greatest insight. The old “two ears, one mouth” adage works well if practised effectively.

Giving people your full attention 

When you are in the room with people or in a meeting (either physically or online), put your phone down and close your laptop. Give people the attention they deserve and actively listen to what they have to say. You will learn more as a result.

Building trust

Listening is a critical skill. But to be able to get people to talk to you and, most importantly, to be honest with you as a senior leader, you need to have trust. That comes with time, but the act of asking questions, listening, and showing you have responded is a great place to start.

The CEO listening tour

So what is the next step to engage your employees and give you a platform to understand their point of view? 

One simple mechanism we use at ENGAGE has helped several new CEOs. We work alongside them to complete some intensive listening, usually early in their tenure, which we refer to as the “CEO listening tour”.

Put simply, this involves a new CEO doing a tour (either physically, virtually or both) to listen to the views of their employees up close and personal. It’s crucial to do this before the new CEO starts to form and share their views on what may need changing or amplifying within an organisation.

If you’d like to learn more about improving your listening skills as a CEO, get in touch with the ENGAGE team.