Skip to content

Why Effective Leaders Listen

effective leaders listen

I Hear What You’re Saying, but…:

You’ve been working on a proposal for weeks about an idea you have for your organization. The day has finally come. You’re in the Board room, seated in front of the Executive Team, presenting your PowerPoint slides in a most professional manner. Talking the members of the team through each slide, you get to the crucial moment when you put forth your recommendation. Interrupting you mid-stream, the CEO turns to you and says, I hear what you’re saying, but…

In many if not most cases, when we make a statement like this, it often times feel honest and open to the receiver. And for us, perhaps it’s a way to show acknowledgement that we’ve been listening to the person who is speaking. Yet if you really think about the meaning behind the words, what is actually being stated is that I hear you with my ears, but…I don’t agree. Or I don’t like your recommendation. Or I’m afraid. Or I tuned out long ago and have an idea of my own to share. Regardless of what words come after the “but”, what you’ve basically demonstrated consciously or otherwise is: I have not been listening.


Just before the holidays, Joseph and I were in Houston with one of our clients, conducting Generative Interviews. The Generative Interview is part of a discovery process, initiating a quality of relationship, reflection and thinking which rarely occurs among busy executives. These interviews are also in preparation for larger Dialogues in which those interviewed come together to explore the questions and issues raised in the private interviews.

And what is the fundamental capacity that underpins these interventions?

You got it – Listening.

I’ve researched and have read more books, blogs and psychology manuals about the topic of listening than I could ever count. Partly because of the work I do; but more importantly because I have a genuine interest in learning about what it takes to be a really good listener. Through my research, I’ve learned about different types of listening. There’s Active Listening, Empathetic Listening, and Reflective Listening. Discriminative Listening and Comprehensive Listening. Appreciative Listening. Sympathetic Listening. So many ways to listen; yet many of us don’t listen as well as we could.

At Generon, we use the term “Active Listening” to describe the type of listening we aspire to in our work. Active Listening is the act of mindfully hearing and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another. It can involve making sounds that indicate attentiveness and in some cases involves giving the speaker a paraphrased rendition of what has been said in order to gain confirmation that you fully understand.

Another type of listening that has been receiving much attention of late is Empathetic (or Reflective) Listening. With Empathetic Listening, you are listening and responding to another person in a way that improves mutual understanding and trust. It enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker’s message, and then provide an appropriate response.

Discriminative listeners focus on sounds such as inflections in a person’s voice, pitch or rate of speech in order to really understand the speaker’s intended meaning.

The ultimate goal of Comprehensive listening is again to understand the message the speaker is communicating.

Appreciative Listening is just that – being appreciative; Sympathetic Listening involves care and concern – both in an effort to understand the person who is speaking.

Regardless of what label or type you choose, there is one common thread though all of these types of listening. And it is this: seek to understand before being understood. Seeking to fully understand is not only an important business communication skill. In my opinion, it is the most important of all interpersonal skills. This was validated by the 16 people we interviewed in Houston. When we asked them their view about what defines a great leader, more than 90% stated that being a good listener was at the top of their list.

Effective leaders listen. And they are good at it. “As a leader, you have to be a really good listener. You need to know your own mind; but there is no point in imposing your views on others. No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice. Get out there; listen to people; and learn from them.” Richard Branson

And you might be interested in 10 Quick Looks At Listening  a list of blog posts offering some clear and quick tips for developing deeper listening skills.

Image: John Hain via Pixabay


  1. Joseph on January 9, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Great message! I believe Tom Peters called this “Listening Aggressively”, many years ago.

  2. Five Blogs – 20 January 2015 | 5blogs on January 19, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    […] Why Effective Leaders Listen Written by: Susan Taylor […]

    • Marie Loscavio on March 26, 2015 at 11:23 am

      I resonate with your words on the miracle of truly being in a state of open listening. I believe being in the present is crucial to sacred listening and the gift of listening to another carries with it the energy to connect and heal. Precious!

      • Susan Taylor on March 29, 2015 at 7:23 am

        Coming from you, Marie; that means a lot! Thank you so very much for your affirmation and resonance. And great to be re-connected.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.