By Angela Nuñez
There are numerous traits that make up a great leader, but first we need to define leadership. Undoubtedly, more than one type of leadership exists, from various forms of fear-based leadership to the inspiring leadership style of figures like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. Inspiring others to do good works and to be engaged in their work is what great leaders do. I think most would agree that striving for a leadership style like Nelson Mandela’s is far better than fear-based leadership. So the question is, what makes great leaders great?
One of the key traits of great leaders is active listening—one simple action that leads to a myriad of positive results. When an employee feels like his manager is truly listening, that employee is more likely to feel appreciated by the organization and, therefore, to be more engaged in his work. A workforce is unlikely to be proud of the organization it works for if that organization never listens to its needs. A recent Forbes article (please make “article” link to http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghanbiro/2012/10/07/5-ways-to-rock-star-hr-leadership/) on HR Leadership points out how important it is to “Listen to what people say…how often they repeat what others say, what verbs they use (active or passive), how many first-person pronouns they use…who mimics the cadence of another’s speech patterns.” All of this is part of active listening and will enable a manager to “pick out the leaders in a group quickly and be able to determine the tenor of their contributions to the health of the organization.”
Active listening also needs to be a non-discriminatory act; don’t just listen to higher-ranking employees, listen to everyone. The most successful organizations have a workforce that is engaged on every level, from CEO to janitor. Each employee is a piece of the whole that makes up an organization and should be valued equally. Active listening is an easy, powerful way to make people feel valued, while simultaneously making the listener aware of issues that need to be resolved and areas that can be improved. One of the greatest active listeners is Captain Abrashoff of the Navy, who took the USS Benfold from being the worst ship in the Navy to the best by simply listening to his crew. His story is one worth reading, especially if you’re ready to make the commitment to becoming a great leader through active listening.