Three Things Leaders Don’t Do and How They Hurt, Part 2

In Part 1 of this post series, I wrote about my research into leadership mistakes and, in particular, the three important things leaders tend not to do. In parts 2, 3, and 4, I’ll unpack each of those to try to provide more help for church lay leaders, pastors, ministers, Sunday School teachers and small group leaders as we develop our skills.

The three things leaders tend not to do are:

1. We don’t really listen.
2. We don’t ask for feedback.
3. We don’t affirm with connection.

So let’s take a look at listening.

  • Your small group meeting is about to start. Things quiet down and everyone looks to you, expecting (and needing) you to say something.
  • Your Sunday School assistant finishes taking attendance and announcements have been made. Then, everyone looks to you to begin the lesson.
  • The Sunday morning music is coming to an end. You walk to the pulpit, the members of the congregation open their Bibles and wait for you to speak.
  • Associate pastors are gathering for the weekly staff meeting. You call the meeting to order and begin to speak.

listen

Leaders are counted on to speak.

On the other hand, we learn in study after study, the most important competency followers want in a leader, after honesty/integrity, is the ability and willingness to listen. Respondents to surveys report that it’s difficult to trust a leader who won’t listen and they emphasize genuine listening.

So those two factors seem to run counter to each other. We’re used to being counted on to speak and those who follow us need us to listen, and listen carefully.

As a result, some leaders have developed a kind of hybrid – a faux listening – where we pay attention to those speaking to us (for a limited time), but only to prepare the right response, not truly to understand. We are purely motivated all the way through. We want to understand, we want to help, we want to lead effectively. However, none of that can happen until we are really listening.

One thing to begin to try in your leadership dialogues is to ask good questions and be determined not either to add to the answer or make the answer a teaching point. Here’s what that sounds like.

Leader: How do you think relationships are developing on the building fund committee?

Follower: It’s a little more challenging than I thought it would be. It’s clear that Lonnie and Terry really don’t see eye to eye, and that’s dragging things down at the meetings.

Leader adding to the answer: I know what you mean. I had the two of them together on the visitors team and had to moderate a lot of conflict. What you have to do with them is…

Leader making the answer a teaching point: When you have a problem like that, the thing to do is focus on the one or two common purposes for the team and keep that in front of people, so they don’t get down in the weeds or lost in personalities.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with either of those two responses. However, they don’t help the leader gain understanding of the follower’s attitudes, feelings, needs, etc. And that’s really what listening is for.

So, to avoid adding to the answer or making the answer a teaching point, it might sound like this.

Leader: How do you think relationships are developing on the building fund committee?

Follower: It’s a little more challenging than I thought it would be. It’s clear that Lonnie and Terry really don’t see eye to eye, and that’s dragging things down at the meetings.

Leader: Has that been really frustrating or would you characterize it more of a minor annoyance?

Follower: It started out as an annoyance, but now I’m concerned it’s really a hinderance.

Leader: What are you thinking is the best approach?

etc.

That doesn’t mean the leader never coaches or gives an opinion or advice of course. It should just take us much longer than it normally does to get to that stage in the dialogue. The adage “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” may sound trite but it is filled with truth.

As you ask good questions and pay attention to the answers, think of the 70/30 principle. An active listener isn’t completely silent or passive in a conversation. Experts advise that a good listener verbalizes about 30% of the time in the conversation, using that content to ask good questions, encourage the listener to say more, communicate understanding and communicate a desire to understand.

I have a 3X5 card taped to the underside of my desk where only I can see it. It says -“Listen”. It helps me to understand that listening to understand is different than listening to respond.

In the next post, asking for feedback.

Listening Resources

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead

 

 

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