Say the word ‘leader,’ and most people picture an assertive individual giving instruction, taking charge, and providing direction. In other words, they picture someone talking.

Other people will picture someone who listens, thinks deeply, and then offers guidance or moves forward with a shared idea.

Which example showcases the better leader?

The real answer is neither.

If you always share your opinion first, you influence those around you without the opportunity to learn from them or select the best pieces of multiple ideas. If you always listen first, you risk letting the conversation become unfocused.

What is the most important leadership skill?

Knowing when to speak and when to listen based on the focus at hand.

Of the two activities, most leaders are used to taking charge and talking, but sitting back and taking in what those around them have to say is often a skill they have to learn.

Why does it matter?

Feeling heard is good for people. It empowers them, encourages independent thinking, helps strengthen a team, increases happiness, leads to better solutions, and typically results in greater creativity and productivity.

Shouldn’t we want that for our kids, significant others, students, fellow citizens, co-workers, employees, and ourselves?

After all, there are times when each of us is a leader and times when we benefit from another’s leadership.

How do you know which activity to do?

  1. If the subject at hand already has clearly defined protocols and effective outcomes, speak.
  2. If the subject matter needs a team effort, will benefit from multiple points of view, is emotionally charged, or isn’t clear, listen. Don’t walk in and announce how you think things should play out before asking for input. Simply ask for input, shut up, and listen.

After everyone’s input has been heard and considered, then it’s time to speak.

Practice your mindfulness of when to speak and when to listen, and you’ll find yourself being a more effective leader in your family, community, and career.