listen to lead: the transformative impact and active listening

Author - Guri Hanstvedt

As a leader, if you're seeking ways to elevate your communication skills and foster growth and development within your team, listening could be the key to achieving those goals. Being a good listener is a fundamental component of effective leadership. It allows you to collaborate with individuals, teams, and organizations to generate innovative outcomes.

As social creatures, humans thrive on building relationships with others. Effective communication lies at the heart of creating and nurturing these relationships. It involves not only expressing our own perspectives, emotions, and experiences but also being receptive and responsive to others.

While most of the attention is typically given to the communicator, the role of the listener is equally vital, especially for leaders looking to motivate and develop their teams. Through my experience coaching leaders, I've come to realize the importance of honing listening skills to build necessary relationships and trust within a team. It's common for leaders to be primarily focused on sharing their own ideas and beliefs, but this approach often falls short when it comes to motivating and developing their teams.

But what does it mean to be a good listener?



Have you ever been in a meeting where you thought you were actively listening, but in reality, you were only hearing the words being spoken? We've all been there.

The truth is, hearing is a passive act of receiving sounds, while listening is an active skill that requires attention and interpretation of what is being said. There are three levels of listening that can help you become a more effective listener in both your personal and professional life.


The lowest level of listening is listening to speak. At this level, we are not really listening to others when they talk. Rather, while they are speaking, we are mostly just thinking about the next thing we want to say.

This level of listening has the most potential to create misunderstandings and often causes us to miss key information in conversations. It's essential to be aware of when you are listening to speak, so you can shift your focus to listening to what the other person is saying.


The second level of listening is listening to gather information. At this level, we are actively paying attention to what the other person is saying. We are not thinking about what we want to say next or distracted by other things; we are totally focused on the other person.

A good example of listening to gather information, that most of us can relate to, is when we are on a first date. We tend to listen intently to their every word. The reason why we can do this in some situations but not in all is that our motivation to listen waxes and wanes depending on who we are with. If we truly want to become great listeners – and it will serve us well to do so – we must motivate ourselves to listen intently to every person, not just some.


The highest level of listening is listening to understand. This level requires intentional practice, and few of us can get here without it. At this level, we are not only paying attention to what others are saying but also to what they mean.

People say things all the time but often fail to convey the underlying feelings or thoughts behind their words. When we listen to understand, we are trying to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, to see the world from their perspective. This level of listening requires us to be empathetic, patient, and open-minded.


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So be mindful when listening to your employees: Direct verbal communication is only one way of communication. They might also let you know their feelings and concerns through employee experience surveys, body language, email and chats, and 360 feedback reports. 

Active listening can be applied in all these communication forms by focusing on generating curious questions and seeking a deeper understanding. A good example is in the follow-up session with the team after an engagement survey.


3 benefits for leaders who are good listeners

Climbing up the levels of listening will heap massive rewards for you as a leader, but how do these relational skills impact your business?

Below you will find three examples of the major benefits of practicing and mastering listening as a leadership skill:

1. THE LEADER Builds Trust:

  • Actively listening to your team members helps to build trust, as they feel heard and valued.
  • Trust is crucial in effective leadership, as it allows team members to feel safe sharing their thoughts, ideas and concerns.
  • When trust is built, it creates a positive work environment and fosters collaboration, which leads to better outcomes.

2. THE LEADER Encourages Innovation:

  • Leaders who listen to their team members are more likely to encourage innovation and creativity.
  • They are able to gather insights and perspectives from various team members, which can lead to new ideas and solutions.
  • By encouraging innovation, leaders can drive growth and success for their organization.

3. THE LEADER Improves Decision-Making:

  • Leaders who listen to all viewpoints before making a decision are more likely to make informed and effective decisions.
  • By considering a range of perspectives, they are able to make decisions that are more comprehensive and objective.
  • This approach can lead to better outcomes, as decisions are made based on a more thorough understanding of the situation.


LISTENING MAKES Effective leadership

Being a good listener can elevate your relational skills and be a fundamental component of effective leadership. Endeavors to reach the highest level of listening not only show empathy and compassion but also make you a better leader by gaining more trust from your employees, encouraging innovation, and improving decision-making. By climbing up the levels of listening, you will learn that employees communicate with more than words.

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Guri Hanstvedt

Guri Hanstvedt

Guri is specialized in supporting leaders and teams with transforming survey insights into concrete tangible actions. With a strong business understanding and experience from working both with and in smaller and larger international companies, she knows how to adapt her approach to fit the specific context and culture.