Listen before You Lead

Mother Teresa has always intrigued me because of her godly servant leadership. She was a tiny but powerful woman who didn’t use manipulation, money, or magnetism to influence people. Instead, Mother Teresa was known as a humble listener. You would think that would have hurt her leadership. I mean – to influence people, don’t you need a strong voice? Not necessarily. Mother Teresa often set aside her opinions, judgments, preconceived notions, and stereotypes to focus completely on the individual. Offering full presence in humility, she made listening appear effortless. Hardly a doormat, Mother Teresa was one of the most influential leaders of our time. 

According to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” I love that definition! In order to listen, we need to “clothe ourselves with humility” as the Apostle Paul instructed (Colossians 3:12). Jesus is a wonderful example of this, though He had every right to be viewed as important, He chose humility (Philippians 2:5-8). One tangible method of clothing ourselves with humility is to learn to listen.

Listening requires we give up our favorite pastime – focusing on ourselves.  It compels us to give up our right to be viewed as “the expert” and to let go of our desire to be the center of attention. It invites us to lay aside our agenda. It challenges you to let go of your need to share your opinions, theories, and assumptions in favor of listening to another’s feelings, thoughts, and sentiments. While that might feel counterintuitive as a leader, I believe you’re going to find that the better listener you become, the more influence you’ll enjoy.

3 Listening Tips

Ask Questions – Learn the art of asking a few great questions. Here are a few to get you started:

  • What do you think you should do?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • How can I help you move forward?

Offer Empathy, Skip Advice – As leaders, a big temptation is to fix problems. Instead, shift your focus to understanding. When you step in to fix another’s problem you take away their opportunity to solve their own problem. Instead, seek to understand and offer empathy. 

Seek to Understand in Conflict – If you’re a leader, conflict will come. Rather than listening to prove your point. Listen to understand. Encourage the person who is in conflict with you to tell you more. You can sift through their thoughts later, but during the conflict, try to keep your focus on helping the other person feel understood. Understanding, in the realm of conflict, goes a long way. 

Leaders who listen become great influencers. So don’t cut yourself short. Instead, work at becoming the best possible listener you can be. In this way, you’ll become a bit more like Jesus.