5 Reasons Why Listening Is the Most Critical Leadership Skill

Riding in a taxi through downtown Sydney, I asked the Somali driver what he thought about Christians. His answer was saddening but not surprising: “Christians don’t listen. They don’t even try to understand us. They just tell us what to think.”

How did the disciples of Jesus get a reputation for not listening? 

The one we claim to follow was an exceptional listener. Jesus was fully present to others. He asked great questions. He listened to hear what was beneath the surface. What if the followers of Jesus were more like him?

We live in a world where nobody seems to be listening anymore. Everybody has something to say and a point to prove. Everybody wants to be understood. Few want to understand. 

What if the followers of Jesus were different? 

What if we were known for being exceptional listeners? 

Scripture Is Full of Counsel on Nurturing Good Listening Skills

Scripture Is Full of Counsel on Nurturing Good Listening Skills

The wise King Solomon composed 22 proverbs about listening, including this one: “Tune your ear to wisdom and concentrate on understanding” (Prov. 2:2). 

James wrote: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). 

Our Lord Jesus commands us to “Consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18) and explains that “The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given” (Mark 4:24 NLT).  

As ministry leaders, we want to make a positive impact. We have convictions and want to assert Godly influence. But even if we’re the best at casting vision and implementing strategies, our leadership will be impoverished if we’re not good listeners. 

The truth is: the people we’re seeking to lead need us to become expert listeners. If we listen well, we’ll lead better.

So, here are five good reasons why you should become a better listener:

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1. Listening Well Makes Others Feel Valued

1. Listening Well Makes Others Feel Valued

When you give someone else your full attention, you send a powerful message that says, “You matter to me.” 

Think about Jesus with the woman at the well (John 8). As she poured out her heart to Jesus, he wasn’t scanning his cell phone news feed, contemplating his next sermon, or looking over her shoulder to see if his disciples were bringing lunch. He was completely focused on the person standing in front of Him. He was fully present; not rushed or distracted. 

His attentiveness to her was strikingly different from anything this woman had experienced before. She was used to being slighted and unheeded. No one else gave her the time of day. 

By the way he listened, Jesus gave her the gift of value. 

When people feel heard, they feel valued. Author, David Augsburger, made this poignant observation: “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” 

So, put your cell phone away, look people in the eye, give them your full attention, and encourage them to share their stories.

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2. Listening Well Brings out the Best in Others

2. Listening Well Brings out the Best in Others

Effective leaders know how to draw out the creativity, insight, and participation of their team members. They know how to create an environment where people feel empowered to contribute their thoughts and ideas. How do they do that? By listening. 

Like Jesus, effective team leaders ask great questions that invite response. Great questions foster connection and collaboration. Most of us as leaders are “idea people.” We see an opportunity or a need and have a knack for coming up with strategies and solutions. 

Rather than pushing out ‘our’ answers, it’s better for us to pause on dishing out our solutions until we’ve invited the ideas of others. After all, their ideas might be better! But even if they aren’t, inviting their thoughts before spilling out our own, will make them more receptive to hearing what we have to say.  

Of course, listening well doesn’t mean you’ll always agree or acquiesce. But wise leaders solicit the ideas of others.

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3. Listening Well Resolves Conflicts

3. Listening Well Resolves Conflicts

In a world of multiple choice answers and strident opinions, conflict is unavoidable. We shouldn’t avoid it. Emotionally healthy leaders know that constructive conflict leads to stronger relationships and better results. 

Leaders who listen well, focus on the goal of understanding, rather than being understood. 

They listen to contrarian voices and say things like “Tell me more.” They also offer the gift of empathy. Nothing disarms anger quite like empathy. Empathy builds a bridge to another person’s heart. It says to that person, “Your feelings make sense to me.” It doesn’t mean you agree. It simply means you understand.  

Once you understand and the other person feels understood, you can work together to solve the problem. 

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4. Listening Well Builds Your Credibility

4. Listening Well Builds Your Credibility

Many leaders undermine their impact and credibility because they dominate or monopolize conversations. Solomon wisely noted that “Fools deceive themselves” (Proverbs 14:8 NLT). 

Fools lack self-awareness, talk endlessly about themselves, and don’t have the foggiest notion of how they’re coming across. They love hearing their own voices and are always ‘topping’ the stories of others.  

In any conversation on most any topic, they try to come across as being ‘experts.’ While entertaining for a while, self-absorbed narcissists run people off. People don’t want to follow leaders like that.  

Rather than trying to be perceived as something you’re not, be yourself. Be a wise leader. Be a learner. “Wise leaders listen to gain understanding (Proverbs 1:5).”

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5. Listening Well Makes You More like Jesus

5. Listening Well Makes You More like Jesus

God’s passion and purpose is our Christlikeness. Becoming more and more like Jesus ought to be the goal of every ministry leader.

Jesus was a great listener. Look at the way he conversed with blind Bartimaeus or the way he engaged with the woman who had ‘an issue of blood.’ 

Even when surrounded by crowds and pressing urgencies, Jesus took the time to be fully present with each individual. He asked great questions and made people feel valued. As the ultimate servant-leader, Jesus modelled exceptional listening skills. 

Sometimes we think that that servant leadership is about ‘serving by leading.’ Jesus showed us that servant leadership is about ‘leading by serving.’ We would do well to follow his example. 

So let’s ask ourselves: What if we as Christian leaders were to follow the example of Jesus and prioritize active listening?   

What if we genuinely sought to understand others rather than seeking to be understood? 

What if we dared to ask those we lead, how well they feel we listen? Imagine how our churches and non-profits could benefit. Amazing things could happen! 

And maybe… just maybe; the followers of Jesus would be known as ‘the people that listen.’ 

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Steve and Becky Harling are the authors of Listen Well, Lead Better. Steve is the CEO of Reach Beyond, a mission agency seeking to make Jesus known among the least reached. Becky is a best-selling author and leadership coach. Steve and Becky speak nationally and internationally at conferences, retreats and training events. 

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