Listening. Effective Leaders Listen

by | Dec 5, 2023


What do you notice about the picuture? 

Do you see a person holding his hand up to his ear, leaning into listen a little clearer? Do you see a person waving to someone? Do you see a hand being raised as he heads towards the brick wall trying to stop himself?

To me it shows a picture of someone desperatly trying to hear……..welcome to todays article on Leaders Who Listen

You have two ears for a reason Nick use them wisely. 

My Grandad

As a leader you have due care and sole responsibility to your people. It is therefore critical not only to your organisation you lead, the people you serve and yourself that you spend quality time with those you lead, both as a group and individually. 

How therefore can leaders continue to be effective leader? 

I have lost count just how many times this year that during my interviews with key stakeholders to carry out a leaders RLA360 assessment who share with me that there one on ones don’t happen, that  much needed time with their leader is changed, moved and cancelled.

When I ask for a little more context the common theme is oh my leader is too busy for them!

That scares me, that message that leaders are too busy for their people really does worry me.,Not that the leader is too busy, that’s another conversation, but this valuable time and opportunity for people to come together to connect is not being utilised. 

Having a meaningful one-on-one and or team get together isn’t about ticking the box of ‘another meeting done’ its about you the leader getting closer, more connection with your people and for your staff to get closer to you. Fundamentally I believe to be an effective leader, a healthy leader the one on one should be a non-negotioble, it must happen. 

For the leader to truly understand their peopled to be of service which is a fundamental requirement of a leader, how can you possibly know your people if you are not facilitating and having those one on ones? I’d encourage you to look into the future with me and what do you notice about your ability to lead your people if you do not have that time with them? Just because your people are good or even great at what he/she is doing, delivering on projects, work etc is not a reason to mot have time to listen to your people. 

What stand out leaders do is ensure they are deeply connected with others, could be with their boss, with peers, with reports, with customers, with board members etc. Stand out leaders put the time into their day religiously to meet, to connect and to listen to what is ‘really going on’ rather than utilise data and report. 

Just to be clear and maybe to help, the meetings you have with your people don’t necessarily need to be structured or come with a full agenda. Sure at regular cadence across the calendar year those will be needed but not for every meeting. What you are looking to achieve is a sense of togetherness, a sense of understanding, a sense of appreciating and or course correcting should the need arise! Business moves unfortunately at break neck speed, with this speed, demands and pressure means decisions that are made in the Board room, with the ELT (Executive Leadership Team and or SLT (Senior Leadership Team) must be communicated through an organisation. How this is done might look like an email, or worst still miss messaging from various levels of an organisation. As the leader it is your responsibility to communicate, listen and share relevant information to your people. Is that best done via an email where words can mean and or interpreted differently by people?. I am not sure that is the best way forward. Sitting with your people conversing is more impactful to the receive and for you to see and hear first hand thought!

When observing CEOs in action during our coaching engagements I love and appreciate how they run their one on ones. It’s refreshing to see authentic care, genuine interest in the other person and more often than not a very productive critical use of time.  What I do typically note down in my journal book is how little time is actually spent on day to day stuff. Effective CEOs bring conversation to life, they are curious, they are present, they are as the picture above shows, ‘listening deeply’. 

To listen is to understand what is not being said. To listen is to hear things that are a little out of the blue. To listen means shutting up and just using those beautiful ears you were born with to do the job they were intended for. 

What I notice about immature leaders is they are the ones speaking. Let’s say its an hour one on one meeting, I’d hear for 50mins the immature leader talking normally not making any kind of sense, jumping around from one thing to another, getting frustrated and sometimes angry. Rather than a two way conversation I observe a dump fest, more a dump from the immature leader trying to prove that they are way smarter than the other person. What I notice is no connection, no togetherness, no communication, no clarity which will ultimately lead to no progress! 

So how much are you the leader really listening?

Creating a common language is the job of the leader, its up to him/her to move with the other person, they are the ones who need to flex, now is the time as a leader to flex your leadership capabilities, to sit in the other persons shoes and understand what is really occurring for that person. 

When a mature leader is in full flight he/she will be wearing the other persons shoes, they will feel what is occurring and going on, they will notice the tone, the mood, the body language, they will observe the unspoken words and peel back that onion a little more. 

No matter the size, shape or location of your organisation, effective CEOs and leaders are the ones who really honour the other person, they invest in that time, they make sure those one on ones happen, they take note and they have an ability to ‘read the room’. The leader of today isn’t focused on his/her agenda they are focused on the other persons needs.  Are you? 

Whether you are new to people leadership, an absolute guru with hundreds of years experience under your belt listening is still a fine art to get right. Imaging for a minute that you are actually present, focused with no distractions, what might you hear and or learn during that time?

People often ask what are some of the ways to listen better!

Here are some of my thoughts to share with you feel free to add yours 

  • Keep technology of even out of the room. By allowing yourself to have that time as humans together and for technology distractions to be completely off is a great starting point. 
  • If you have an EA/PA then ask them to ensure that precious time with your people is not interrupted. Back in the day you would see a Do Not Disturb sign on the door, maybe just a note to say unavailable could be a nice approach
  • Check your seating position. Being face on with a person allow you both to really interact together. I’ve observed sitting side on distorts the sound coming towards us
  • Observe how much you are speaking rather than listening. Be ruthless on your observations. If it is there one on one with you then its their meeting/agenda. They can bring what ever they want to discuss, the focus for you is to listen.
  • Just shut up! Stop talking. If you feel you need to jump in and speak then just stop, shut up and listen. Allowing quiet time during meetings is extremely powerful, it gives both people the opportunity to actually ‘think’. Sometimes just that moment to think and reflect can bring about a shift in clarity! I encourage you to therefore shut up!
  • If you are taking notes I’d encourage you to use a journal book / paper and pen (old school). As I mentioned in my starting point I’d really encourage you to leave technology at the door. You can always follow up with a note post meeting if things need to be clarified and or pointed out.

I recently had a wonderful executive in my office and she was going to town on sharing with me somethings that had been going on. I asked her what have you heard……she paused and looked a little puzzled by the question. Part of her own leadership development was listening more speaking less. All around my offie are trees, which attracts birds here in New Zealand we have a bird called a Tui and it makes the most amazing noise. It just so happened that during our meeting around 4 had gathered up just outside my office and where having a hell of a chat together but my client hadn’t even heard or noticed them. She was too far in her own words to have noticed. I asked her to stop and for one minute just to sit with me no words just sit quietly. 

After that minute I asked her how did that feel. Awkward Nick, Hard, uncomfortable. I said what did you notice?. I hear birds, I felt my heart beating and the work going on in your house! Ah so you can hear I said……..she laughed yep I can hear. Well when you are having meetings I want you to remember that minute – sure it felt like a long time but you were more present in that minute than you have been for the last 4 months working with me.

She now has a clock in her office and when she is having her one on ones with her leadership team she not only focuses on them, she observes the clock ticking over a full minute and she speaks a great deal less. Progress we call that.

To listen you must not be speaking. So in order to listen I ask you to speak less and listen more.

Over to you.

If you require leadership coaching then reach out to Nick for a confidential conversation. 



For a confidential conversation about your leadership coaching needs, call Nick on +6421375630 or email him

Nick Roud

Nick Roud

Executive Leadership Coach

Nick is the Chairman of Nick Roud Coaching and a Global Award Winning Executive Coach. Nick holds the highest coaching qualification MCEC. His clients are typically Chief Executive Officers, Executives and Emerging Leaders. Nick’s office is based in Auckland, New Zealand and he travels extensively around the world to coach his clients. You can contact Nick directly on +6421375630