Inspirational Leaders Are Great Listeners

Ask Good Questions And React To The Answers Some have a mental image of the inspirational leader as speech-maker, as the person who could pound the pulpit or arouse the board room, the firebrand with a lot to say and an excellent talent for saying it.

My experience in years of coaching leaders has taught me that, while the firebrand-type can wonderfully inspire a certain type of followership, more followers are inspired by the sort of leader who's more of a "quiet sensation"... the leader who spends more time questioning, listening, and learning about her followers than she does making her own points.

Inspirational leadership requires empathy... empathy requires deep awareness of the other person... deep awareness requires a gift for excellent listening.

You can tell whether a leader really cares about you by the type of conversation you have with him. I once worked for an entrepreneur who was definitely more of the firebrand type... I'll call him "Bob." His main go-to tool, interpersonally, could only be described as the "interruptive grunt." He would ask you a question, but he would never permit YOU to answer it... because he already had the answer, and didn't really care what you thought.

A conversation with Bob would go like this:

Bob: "So, Mike, whaddya think about those market share numbers?"

Me: "Well, Bob, I -"

Bob: "Huh?" (The Interruptive Grunt)

Me: "Yes, well we should probably -"

Bob: "Huh? You know what we need to do, don't you? We need to get out there and sell some stuff!"

Me: "Actually -"

Bob: "Huh? Yep, sales, that's our issue."

I'm not exaggerating. Bob might talk to you, but you never really talked to Bob. He already had all the answers. I'm happy to say I left for greener pastures before Bob's business went down in flames.

Inspirational leaders ask open questions and they show they care about you and your answer by giving you plenty of space to unfold your thoughts. They encourage you to say more, even after you appear to have exhausted your points, because they know that it's after a smart person has said what she already knows that she starts to imagine and explore new answers.

Better leaders don't riddle you with rapid-fire, short-answer questions as if they have a pre-cooked narrative in their head and are only looking for you to fill in the blanks (or, worse, are only using questions as a technique for pretending to care what you think, when they really don't). A great leader only wants a deep answer to one or two questions; they want a real dialogue with you.

Finally, inspirational leaders don't just ask questions, get you to spill your guts, and then walk away without reacting. They give a real-time, unplanned, unrehearsed reaction to things you say. By this, you can tell that the leader actually cares about you and your thoughts... he is transparent about where you stand with him, whether or not he agrees with your point.

What kind of leader are you? Successful entrepreneurs have had a classic reputation for being better talkers than listeners... but these days, when a lot of business is conducted over the internet (and some businesses exist only in cyberspace), the way leaders interact with their stakeholders is changing. Many entrepreneurs are finding their path to inspirational leadership lies more in the direction of listening, asking great questions, and showing they care about the answers... and the answerers.


Michael Hume is a speaker, writer, and consultant specializing in helping people maximize their potential and enjoy inspiring lives. As Founding Consultant of Agents of Personal Change (APC), LLC, he coaches executives and leaders in growing their personal sense of well-being through wealth creation and management, along with personal vitality. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit who want to make money "one less thing to worry about" can learn more about working with Michael...

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