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Leadership-level Listening

The quiet superpower

Recently, a family friend called me for some career advice. He'd hit a ceiling in his and didn't understand why—and I couldn't tell him. More accurately, I could have, but it wouldn't have helped. The listening skills that served him well enough to reach his current role weren't sufficient to excel in his new position, where listening had become both more critical and more difficult. And so, we had a talk about listening.

It's something I see frequently. Executives who don't step up their listening skills as they advance undermine their leadership on two fronts: They miss crucial information, and even when they don't, if their listening style doesn't make their people feel heard, it alienates them.

Leadership-level listening requires new mental models and deliberate practice, but it may be the secret superpower behind continued advancement. Great leaders are expert listeners. They avoid the four most common listening mistakes, practice three key listening skills, ask two kinds of listening questions, and summarize their learning with one final technique. It may sound daunting, but I've found the simple practice of mentally counting down, "Listening in 4-3-2-1" helps me remember the basics, stay focused and get more out of conversations.

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