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).

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. Give it a shot. What do you have to lose?

Here are 3 steps to help you get started:

  1. Humble yourself and ask God to develop in you the ability to focus on others. I have learned to pray this prayer on the way to appointments. As I drive to a coffee or lunch date, I ask the Lord to help me to focus completely on the other person. 
  2. Learn the art of great question asking. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a short “yes” or “no.” I find it helpful to think through what questions will help draw the other person out ahead of time. Perhaps you can ask about their family or a recent vacation they took. You could ask how they are feeling about overseeing a new project at work. With a little intentionality, you’ll be able to come up with questions 
  3. Let go of the need to be viewed as “the expert.” When we’re trying to prove ourselves, we’re focused on our opinions and we fail to completely give the other person our attention. Ask the Lord to help you let go of the need to be the expert. 

Friend, as a leader, it can be so easy to try to prove yourself, talk too much, and come off like the expert. Next time you’re tempted, remember Mother Teresa. Learn to listen before you lead.