Exceptional leaders have an above-average ability to listen. They know listening gives them the information they need to make good decisions as leaders. It helps them to solicit knowledge and to better understand and empower employees. It shows respect.
Listening isn’t the only ability that differentiates a leader. Standout leaders also have a great skill in asking questions. What I see in some leaders is the belief that their job is to supply all the answers. No one has all the answers. Managing is about answering questions; leadership is about asking questions, especially the difficult ones.
Some so-called leaders tend to dominate discussions and it’s hard for others to get a word in. In a fashion, a lot of leaders I know want to have the last word. The problem with that is that no matter how smart you are, you’re limited by your own framework. You’re limited by your own experiences and by your own past decisions. So you continue to create a culture where everybody comes to you for answers. That ultimately stifles growth.
Giving all the answers really doesn’t inspire people. Employees aren’t machines. But asking the right questions promotes a culture within an organization where an employee can operate in a way that is in keeping with and supportive of your values and vision.
It’s not just about how you ask the questions but when you ask the questions. That’s another important part. The “when” has several components, but mostly where there is growth or learning needed. That’s how you find the right time to ask a question.
Leaders have good ideas but listening helps make them better leaders by giving them the information they need to ask good questions. That’s why it’s important for leaders to start and end with listening.