Everybody says that listening is the most important thing that a great leader can do.

But I'm telling you, forget about listening.

Let me explain. Now, as the owner and CEO of my company, I definitely agree that listening to your employees is a great thing to do. And, most leaders have  good intentions when they say they listen.

The problem is, leaders often listen the wrong way. What ends up happening is, they tell their employees directly or indirectly what they think about something before listening...and that just defeats the whole purpose of hearing your employees out.

This kind of listening will only leave your employees thinking, "Well, if you feel that way, why ask my opinion in the first place?"

For example:

  • "Here's the problem, here's what I think... What do you think?"

  • "Before you go into that, let me just say one thing first..."

  • "I understand where you're coming from, but I think..."

Sooner or later, your discouraged employees will stop sharing any ideas, and that kills communication in your company.

Instead, do this as a leader...

Speak last. This is what Simon Sinek explained so eloquently in his speech. When you're the last to speak, you empower your employees to voice their opinions and ideas without you butting in. You also become smarter as a leader, since you get to hear all your employees' thoughts and suggestions.

So, here are a few ways you can practice speaking last as a leader:

1. Listen... and do absolutely nothing.

When I say 'speaking' last, that also includes 'speaking' non-verbally. Avoid giving away any verbal or non-verbal cues, like shaking or nodding your head, or gesturing with your hands.
Any expression you make or any cue you give will influence your employees' thinking. You want their full, unfiltered opinion. Here's what I do: I ask questions, invite people to stand up and talk, and then I take my seat at the back of the room. That way, everybody is focused on the person speaking, so he or she has the room's full, undivided attention.

2. Ask questions like a true interviewer.

Stop jumping right in once your employees are done talking. Instead, ask them questions about what they just said. This prevents you from making inaccurate judgments of their messages. I simply ask my team "why", and let them share their reasoning. Then I ask them "how", getting them to explain the steps they took to come to a conclusion. This helps me see their arguments in a much clearer way.

3. Disagree and commit.

It's easy to speak last when you agree with your employee. It's a whole other thing when you hate the idea. So, how do you keep yourself from firing questions in the heat of the moment? Try doing what Jeff Bezos recommends: "disagree and commit." The idea is that you want to disagree only after you fully consider all the points your employee or team is putting forward. And when you disagree, you share your candid opinion, while also letting your employees have the freedom to try things out.

So the next time you're in a meeting with your team, speak last. Listening is important, but speaking last is what will bring your leadership skills to new heights.

Published on: Dec 11, 2017