Leaders listen to their teams

Recently my daughter, while we were taking a walk together, exclaimed to my wife, “It is funny how Daddy can hear you [Mommy] outside but he can’t hear you inside!”

Her statement got me thinking about what factors impact our ability to hear our teams.   My belief is to become a leader others want to follow, we must work towards becoming superior listeners.

Why?   Because learning and applying what our followers think and feel provides the opportunity to fold their insights into our decision making process. Doing this consistently makes our decisions better and will help our organizations go further faster.

While there are many ways to increase our ability to listen as outlined nicely by Diane Schilling in her Forbes article titled 10 steps to effective listening, today let’s examine how to increase our capacity to listen to our teams as an extension of the idea of engaging our teams on their terms.

The team frequency

Listening to the team requires we are tuned in to the right frequency.

Every team has one. A voice. A heart. The way they do things. We may not recognize their frequency at first. Few leaders do. It takes the leader’s devotion and deep commitment to help a team unpack and develop their combined gifts in ways that produce world class results.

The sound coming from the combined voices of the team is like the frequency of a radio station. The leader’s responsibility is to tune into it to hear what the team is communicating.

Outsiders seldom realize this as their focus is typically on the teams’ results. We believe that each team deserves our care, development, and a purpose. Without these things teams struggle to achieve their full potential. The best leaders place team development as a priority which allows them to transform individuals working together into a teams. Once individuals have become a team they have new opportunities to produce something remarkable.

Increase the volume

As leader, there are times when we are tuned into the right frequency but struggle to hear the team. Expect this to occur from time to time. When we are working together with many teams or have other voices to consider it is possible we may need to temporarily turn up the volume of the team to hear what they are telling us.  Increasing the volume is not something the team does.   Instead it becomes our responsibility to position ourselves closer to the team or the team closer to us.

Look out for static

Static happens.   We can receive interference that blocks our team’s signal. Often times this is temporary, occurs at predictable times, or when teams receive conflicting messages. As leader, it is our job to remove what impedes our team so we can receive their message clearly.   The static that cannot be removed, such as a storm, requires that we walk in close proximity to our teams to ensure clear communication.


Listening well requires commitment and practice. In this arena we must set the highest standard. Leading by example is critical in developing a team that listens to each other. When we tune into the right frequency and are close enough to the team to hear them even during a storm, we have the best chance of being imitated by the others on our teams and those we influence.

Shepherding: The art of becoming the leader others want to follow

More on listening from HBR