With the increase in flexibility in how and when individuals work, people are reporting higher levels of burnout and difficulty in finding work-life balance.

To combat this, leaders and employees alike will have to focus on increasing their empathic social skills. One skill, in particular, increasingly separates average leaders from great ones: active listening.

Activating Your Active Listening Skills

Effective communication isn't just about talking; it's having the ability to listen intuitively to the other person's story, ask questions, and search conversations for depth, meaning, and understanding with their needs in mind. This is active listening at its best.

With technology and social media ruling our lives, we are becoming less opportunistic in developing our active listening skills, and less socially aware of its effect on business as a competitive advantage. As you develop professional relationships, leverage active listening by being able to understand what's happening on the other side of the fence.

This is a key differentiator of great leaders -- listening to understand. It's also fast becoming a rare and forgotten leadership skill. The great ones, you'll notice, don't dominate the conversation by talking only about themselves or the task at hand.

In meetings, huddles, or one-on-ones, they listen and reflect back on what they heard to clarify ("What I hear you saying is ..."), and they ask questions to probe the other person's feelings or opinions on a task or direction a project is heading. That can be as simple as: "Tell me how you feel about this."

The listening has one overarching goal: to find ways to connect with and help the other person succeed. Having your employees' best interests in mind gives leaders the edge in building trust when it matters most.

People underestimate the power of the great leadership skill of active listening. When a person feels that they are listened to, it goes directly to their self-worth. When someone demonstrates that they care about what concerns them and that the other person really understands their perspective, it validates that individual.

As you identify future leaders to promote to higher ranks within your organization, pay attention to the ones who listen with the intent to help each team member be the best person they can be. This is someone worthy of being in the esteemed role of a leader.