How leaders can improve their listening skills


Leaders have different strengths and weaknesses. While listening will come naturally to some, for others, it might be a challenge. As a leader, if you are aware that you could improve your listening skills, then you’ll be pleased to hear there are steps you can take to improve your listening skills. 

Listening is an important part of leading. An incredible 79% of employees say they would quit their job if they don’t feel appreciated, and a key way to make sure your employees feel appreciated is to make them feel listened to. Nobody likes to feel like they are not being heard. 

Plus, employees who feel heard are reportedly 4.6 times more likely to do their best work.

Here are just some of the ways you can improve your listening skills.

Recognise the importance of listening

The absolute first thing you must do is recognise the importance of listening. Your employees are your most valuable asset. Collectively, they know more about your company than you can ever hope to. Listening to their concerns and ideas is the absolute best way to lead your company to success. 

Until you recognise how important listening is, you’ll never find the time, and you’ll never do it with the level of authenticity required. 

Understand why we listen

When we listen, we tend to do it for one of four reasons;

  • to obtain information,
  • to understand,
  • for enjoyment,
  • to learn.

If you’re listening to your employees properly, you should be taking all four aspects and advantages from your conversations. We recommend you give your employees your full focus and attention when you’re having a conversation, but there is no harm in noting down what you learned afterwards, where you gained understanding, what parts of your conversation you enjoyed, and any new information you were given. This will help you to clearly identify what you get from listening and why it is so incredibly important. 

Learn to be interested

In order to listen effectively, you must genuinely be interested in your employees. You must really want to know what they’re thinking and how they are feeling. Don’t view your conversations as a vanity project to make them feel heard. There is a difference between hearing and listening. 

When you listen properly, you can gather facts, learn to understand emotions and feelings, whether they are spoken or not, and ask the questions you need to ask to identify any issues and keep your employees happy. 

As you become better at this, your employees will start to feel as though you care about them and their issues, and they will feel like they can be more honest. The more of their issues you listen to and solve, the more open they will be in future. It’s a perfect, never-ending circle.

We know that you’re busy, but you should be able to find ten minutes here and there to have a frank conversation with your staff. If you can’t, you need to make time and prioritise this. There is much value to be gained from listening to others.

Listening to your employees shows them that you care 

Employees who feel like they matter, often work harder for their leaders. Every employee would rather be led by a leader who shows that they care by actively listening to their contributions. Employees are not just tools or resources to help you reach your goals. Consider them to be valuable assets who bring you unique perspectives and have opinions that matter.

Empathetic leaders are good listeners

Empathy is a tool for showing that you listen. Leaders have a tendency to avoid emotional interactions, but the greatest leaders will realize the importance of empathy and allow open and honest conversations with their staff. Leaders can be better listeners by balancing head and heart in their conversations with employees.


There is a reason the saying goes ‘practice makes perfect’. That’s because it’s true. At first it might feel odd to you to listen without interrupting, but the longer you do it the better you’ll get at it, and the more natural it will feel. Like any skill you are trying to learn, you must persevere. You must work at it until it comes naturally to you. You must keep trying until you do it without really thinking about it. 

Limit non-verbal communication between employees

It’s so much easier these days to write everything down in an email and fire it off. This is an entirely different way of communicating. Reading is not listening and it should not be regarded as such. You should encourage your employees to pick up the phone, or get on to a video conferencing call if in person meetings are not possible, instead of emailing each other, and you should try to do the same where possible. This way, you’ll not only get better at talking, but at listening, too.

It’ll feel strange at first, but eventually it will become normal. For more encouragement, read this article about an organisation who ditched internal email.

Dr John Behr, Executive Coach with more than 25 years’ experience says: “In current times, we rely on video conferencing with the shift to interactions being far more virtual. When making the shift to virtual meetings, consider what are all the things you can do to bring in that moment, such as engaging your head, heart and your body.

“For me, listening means being present in all senses – physically, emotionally and mentally; being present with your body, heart and mind. And when we leverage video calling, it allows us to engage in active listening. For example, similar to face-to-face communication, on these virtual video calls, particularly if it’s one-on-one, it’s good to maintain a comfortable amount of eye-contact, without staring.”

Invest in coaching

If you feel like you need help with specific aspects of your leadership, a coach is a great way to develop these. They’ll give you specially tailored tips and tricks to help develop your listening skills and teach you to hold yourself accountable. They’ll check in with how this particular skill is developing and help keep you on track. 

Dr. John Behr says:

“A significant proportion of time I spend in coaching is focused on relationships. And a large part of relationships is about communication. 

I think it’s imperative as a coach to model active listening and to create lots of open space, while simultaneously encouraging other people to do the same. I recommend being present, intentional and allowing the conversation to unfold. But always remaining present and in that moment.”

John Behr Group can help you improve your listening skills as a leader. John has a unique approach to coaching that allows leaders to be completely candid and fully explore their strengths and limitations. 

To find out more about how John Behr can help you develop your leadership skills, please fill in the contact form on our website.