Leadership Barometer 201 Active Listening

June 13, 2023

Active Listening is a skill that leaders should use consciously more often. Most leaders have been trained on the steps to use, but many forget to use them when they should.

When workers are asked what their greatest frustration is at work, a common response is communication. For most people, the skill of listening is the weakest of the communication skills.

Why active listening is often overlooked

While they appear to listen, many leaders use their mental energy to prepare what they are going to say next. That habit reduces understanding and accounts for much frustration in communication.

Active listening is difficult

Active listening requires much more effort than casual listening. If we try to use active listening for all conversations, we would get very tired.  I recommend that leaders should use active listening for conversations where emotions run high.

Active listening involves fully focusing on and comprehending the speaker’s message, without interrupting or prematurely formulating a response. While it may seem simple, active listening is a critical skill that can enhance communication. It helps build trust and foster collaboration within a team or organization.

Unfortunately, many leaders struggle to practice active listening consistently. They may be prone to interrupting, multitasking, or being more focused on expressing their own ideas. They do not focus enough attention on truly understanding others. This can lead to misunderstandings, decreased morale, and missed opportunities for innovative solutions.

Ignoring active listening means the leader is sacrificing many good things in their organization.

Active listening helps build trust

By actively listening, leaders can demonstrate respect for their team members, encourage open dialogue, and gain valuable insights. It helps them develop a deeper understanding of their team’s challenges, needs, and aspirations. It can inform decision-making and drive more effective leadership. Good listening builds higher trust.

To cultivate active listening skills, leaders should:

  1. Give undivided attention to the speaker. Don’t multitask.
  2. Maintain good eye contact.
  3. Approach conversations with an open mind and suspend judgment.
  4. Be empathetic to the speaker’s emotions, motivations, and concerns
  5. Ask for clarification when necessary, ensuring a clear understanding of the speaker’s message.
  6. Summarize and reflect what the speaker has said to demonstrate understanding. Do this artfully and not with a heavy hand.
  7. Allow the speaker to express themselves fully without rushing or interrupting.
  8. Create a safe and inclusive environment where all team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.


By incorporating active listening into their leadership style, leaders can foster better communication, build stronger relationships, and empower their teams to achieve their full potential.




Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Leadership Barometer 12 Listen Deeply

August 13, 2019

Of all the leadership skills available, the ability to listen well is high in the pecking order required to be an outstanding leader. Reason: Few leaders have mastered the art of listening deeply.

They think they do, but in reality their listening ability is mostly at the surface level.

Listen Deeply

It is said that managers have the worst hearing in the world. Many employees lament that trying to talk to the boss is like trying to reason with a rock. Yet most managers would put “listening skills” as one of their best traits.

How come there is such a wide gap between perception and reality? I believe leaders do not understand that listening is a very complicated and multi-step process that starts in the mind of the speaker. Here are the steps involved in listening.

1. Speaker’s mind has a thought
2. Speaker translates the thought into words
3. Speaker says the words
4. Words are conveyed to the ear of the listener
5. Words are heard or not heard as sent
6. The words that were heard are translated into thought
7. The thought is translated into the listener’s mind

All the while those steps are going on, the leader’s mind is busy thinking about what he or she is trying to accomplish rather than focusing on what the other person is trying to convey.

If any one of those seven elements is corrupted in any way, then the message has not been received accurately. Of those seven steps, which one causes the most trouble in communication?

It is step 5. Reason: While most people are “listening” they are actually occupying their mind preparing to speak. So what actually enters the brain is not what the listener actually believes has been said.

The culprit here is that we have a disconnect between how fast we can talk versus how fast we can think. We can think many times faster then we can talk, so the brain has excess time to process other things while waiting for the words to arrive.

We actually multi-task, and our thoughts zoom in and out of the stream of words heading toward our ears. We believe that we have caught all of the content, but in reality only grasp part of it because we are occupied thinking up our response.

The best defense for poor listening habits is what is called “reflective listening” or sometimes called “active listening.” This is where we force our brain to slow down and focus on the incoming words in order to give the speaker visual and verbal cues that we really understood the message.

The art of reflective listening is an acquired skill, and it takes a lot of practice and effort to be good at it. If you doubt that, just try listening to someone for 5 minutes straight and concentrate on absorbing every word such that you can reflect small parts of the conversation throughout the 5 minutes. It is exhausting.

For leaders, the need for listening is even more of a challenge. We have to not only hear and interpret the words, we have to understand the full meaning. This means not only must we take in the verbal input but also properly interpret the vast amount of body language that comes along with it.

Since there is more meaning in body language than in words, it makes listening an even more daunting task.

Most leaders do not take the time and energy to internalize what is being conveyed to them because they are so preoccupied with getting their message out to others.

This habit leaves them totally vulnerable to misunderstandings that cripple the ability to build trust. When you add the ego response, which most leaders have an ample supply of, it is no wonder employees feel they are not being heard.

James O’Toole had a great line for this in the book “Transparency.” He said, “…it is often the presence of excessive amounts of testosterone that leads to a loss of hearing.”

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.