Before embarking on the journey of leadership and missions, I was a physician. Day in and day out, I completed hospital rounds, performed surgeries, and spent several hours a day seeing patients. The first part of every visit is called “anamnesis.” This is when patients describe what is bothering them and how their symptoms have progressed over time. In essence, this is when people tell their story.
LISTENING AND LEADERSHIP
The most important skill needed for this part of medical practice is listening — allowing patients to describe their problem in their own language, guiding them with the appropriate questions and gaining as much information as possible to interpret their symptoms.
As leaders, we are often in situations where we get to listen to someone's story. As servant leaders, we must develop similar listening skills to that of doctors who listen to a patient's symptoms.
LEADERS ARE SPEAKERS
The common problem for visionary leaders is having much to say. God has revealed a "mental picture of a preferable future," and we are focused on pursuing it. However, if we are to be true servant leaders, we must be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Here are four reasons why listening is a valuable leadership trait.
Listening Builds Trust. When leaders listen, they communicate the importance and value of hearing another person's opinion.
Listening Encourages. Listening communicates the other person is a valuable member of the team.
Listening Gets the Whole Story. By not interrupting a narrative, good listeners get a more complete account of the story.
Listeners are Heard. If you listen to what others have to say, they will likely listen when you have something to say.
HOW TO BE A BETTER LISTENER
You may understand at this point that to lead, you must listen, but how can one become a better listener? Allow me to suggest six ways to improve your listening skills.
Be Quiet. Being quiet will require discipline to stay silent and listen with attention, without interrupting.
Resist the Temptation to Interject. While you may have legitimate, clarifying questions which need to be addressed, save them for later. Take notes if necessary.
Empathize. Put yourself in the other person's shoes to understand where they are coming from and why they think the way they do.
Make Eye Contact. Eye contact carries great impact, signaling you are engaged and attentive to what the person is saying.
Watch Your Body Language. Fidgeting, scribbling, looking away, and other body motions may unintentionally signal disinterest.
Ask Open-Ended Questions. Once you have given the other person a chance to tell the whole story, guide the conversation with the appropriate questions to get the correct context.