When we think of leadership, without giving it a lot of thought, many of us tend to think of powerful speakers. Certainly, having terrific speaking skills is an asset for a leader. And, certainly, great speeches have motivated groups to accomplish great feats. Think General MacArthur, Winston Churchill, Herb Books and Knute Rockne here.

As powerful as speaking can be, I would argue that most often the more important skill for a leader is listening. It is listening that helps a leader truly understand a situation. I would even venture to say there was very likely a great deal in the way of listening and understanding before speakers shared the kinds of speeches we now consider most famous.

It’s interesting that in our society we typically don’t give much credence to the importance of listening and understanding when it comes to being an effective leader. I think that’s too bad, because it’s tough to impossible to be a great leader without being an effective listener. Without listening and deeply understanding a situation, it’s tough to be decisive. Without listening to others, it’s more challenging to get “everyone on board” and headed in the same direction.

I thinks it’s a sign of my growing older that I get asked from time to time by aspiring educational leaders what I think is the one most important thing they can do to become exceptional leaders. My answer is, quite simply, to learn to listen well. Listening well is a skill, one that I continue to work on every day. Listening well is not a physical act. That’s hearing. Listening well is not the all too common practice of thinking about what one is going to say in response to what someone else is sharing, while the other person is doing the talking. Listening well is listening to understand. To truly and deeply understand. It involves using the art of asking clarifying questions. It also involves seeking non-verbal cues and being attentive to the “message within the message.” Just like other skills, to listen well takes effort and lots of practice.

One final thought. I’ve never heard anyone criticize someone else for listening too much.

Mike Redmond is the Superintendent of Shakopee Public Schools and author of the blog, Redmond’s Rules. Each blog post provides deeper meaning and more clarity to each of the 15 rules that make up Redmond’s Rules. To read recent posts, visit: shakopee.k12.mn.us/Page/9725.

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