5 Ways to Hear Different People as a Leader

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is forgetting everyone doesn’t think like the leader. To lead well, I need to hear from different people. 

I have personally made the mistake of assuming what we are thinking is what everyone else is thinking.

Time has proven this to be wrong repeatedly.

The fact is people are different. They think differently. They have different desires. Thankfully – many times – they have different ideas. The way they process and share those ideas are different from the leader.

This can be frustrating, but it can also be extremely helpful, because if the organization is limited to my abilities it is going to be very limited. 

So, if you recognize the need and want to hear from different people – and you should – you’ll often have to lead differently from how you wish to be led.

When you fail to remember this principle of leadership – people are different – you frustrate those you are trying to lead. You get poor performance from the best leaders on your team and, worst of all, your team fails to live up to its potential.

Here are some thoughts to warrant against this and hear from different people:

(I am using the word “I” a lot here. I don’t really like the term much, because I think better leadership is a we. But I want you to see how I am being intentional in this area, so I provide a few practical examples.)

Welcome input.

This is more of a personal attitude. I have to actually want to hear from people on my team – even the kind of information which hurts to hear initially. I personally want any team I lead to feel comfortable walking into my office and challenge my decisions.

Granted, I want to receive respect too, but I expect to equally give respect. Knowing what my team really thinks empowers me to lead them better.

Intentionally surround yourself with diverse personalities.

One intentional thing I do is try to have good friends who stretch me as a person – even outside or my work. I have some extremely extroverted friends, for example. They remind me everyone isn’t introverted like me. One of my closest friends is a different race from me. I learn so much from him.

Building my comfort with this in my personal life helps me welcome it even more in my professional life. We will all share a common vision, but we should have some unique approaches to implementing it. Ask yourself, “Have I surrounded myself with people who think just like me?”

Ask great questions.

And ask lots of them. Personally, I love to ask questions. I give plenty of opportunity for input into major decisions before a decision is final. We do assessments as a team. I invite different people to staff meetings to hear from different voices. Periodically, I set up focus groups of people for input on various issues.

I want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible and try to consistently surround myself with different voices, so I receive diversity of thought. A personal value is hearing from people who I know respect me, but are not afraid to be honest with me.

Never assume agreement by silence.

This is huge. I want to know, as best as I can – not only what people are saying, but what people are really thinking. To accomplish this I periodically allow and welcome anonymous feedback. I realize, just because of position, and partly because of personalities, some are not going to be totally transparent with me.

I try to provide multiple ways for feedback. Even during meetings, I welcome texting or emailing me (depending on the size and structure of the meeting) during the meeting. I’ve found this approach works better for some who may not provide their voice otherwise.

Structure for expression of thought.

This refers to the DNA – the culture – for the entire team. And it is very important. There has to be an environment with all leaders which encourages people to think for themselves. This kind of culture doesn’t happen without intentionality.

As a leader, I try to surround myself with people sharper than me, but I want all of us to have the same attitude towards this principle of hearing from others. I believe in the power of “WE”. If we want to take advantage of the experience and talents in our church, we have to get out of the way, listen, and follow others lead when appropriate.

It’s not easy being a leader, but it is more manageable when you discipline yourself to allow others to help you lead.

Nate and I have finished our fall semester at the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast. New episodes will begin in early 2021. Subscribe now so you don’t miss the next one.

Ron Edmondson

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