What's leadership? The definitions are too vast to count and leadership gurus continue to multiply. In most cases though, they tend to center around the concept of empowering other people to reach greater heights than what they did before. Whether in sports or business, being a better leader isn't really about you...it's more about the people you're leading.

The fact that leadership can be pinpointed into something as simple as empowering others doesn't make it any easier to do, though. In fact, leadership is probably the hardest skill to master precisely because it isn't a personal thing. If you could just practice by yourself then with enough time, we could all be great leaders.

Think about a basketball player like Stephen Curry. He makes more than 90% of his foul shots every year. Part of that is a steely mindset and competitiveness. But most of it is pure muscle memory from thousands of hours spent shooting that same shot...time and time again...by himself.

Leaders can't just practice by themselves all day and strengthen brain muscle memory. They need to be influencing, communicating, directing and advising those around them. They need to be orchestrating a vision and providing the climate to realize it.

So if you can't really practice by yourself and you need to be building effectiveness on the fly, what is this simple trick to leadership?

Ready, here it is... Listen. That's it--you start being a better leader by listening. But listen less to what your people are saying than to how they're saying it and what the greater underlying motivations are for their words. As management guru Peter Drucker once said, "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said."

Leaders who can take a step back from their own preferred way of working and communicating and look to understand others will be better able to empower them to be better in their work.

Here's an example of what this looks like. Take a step back and look at your communication style as a leader. Think about your behavior and how this could be perceived by your team or your organization. As you express yourself, do you tend to be more quiet and introspective or more gregarious and outgoing? Either way is fine, but research we've conducted on human behavior shows that only about 1/3 of the population will share your preference.

So if you're only ever communicating your message in your preferred level of expressiveness, then you're likely not reaching 2/3 of the population as effectively as you could be. And even worse, for a person on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, you could be actively annoying him. If that sort of communication happens time and time again, disengagement starts to happen and the workplace can become toxic.

What would happen if you listened more intently as a leader, though? Well, instead of reaching a small percentage of your team or organization, you'd understand people as individuals. For the more outgoing leader, instead of barreling ahead in a gregarious manner to someone who obviously exhibits a more quiet behavioral pattern, you could soften your tone, provide more time for reflection and be more comfortable with silence.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't be true to yourself...quite the opposite. Listening to others means knowing yourself as well and knowing when you need to stretch your style and when you can play to your strengths. The sweet spot comes when you have enough self-awareness to know not only who you are but also how to read others and know what they need in order to succeed. That's leadership after all.