4 Active Listening Skills of Influential Leaders

A good leader is able to effectively communicate their thoughts and opinions to their workers. While it’s important for leaders to be able to share their thoughts, it’s equally important that leaders have the ability to listen to the wants and needs of those working under their direction. One survey found that not feeling heard is the second most common complaint. Below are some of the ways that you can incorporate active listening in your day-to-day routine.

1) Pay Attention

This may seem like an obvious tip, and that’s because it is. Paying attention is the first step to actively listening to your employees. It can be difficult sometimes to give someone your completely undivided attention, but you can start by genuinely hearing what the person is saying. Try not to object, cut them off, or spend the whole time figuring out how you plan to respond. Instead, take the time to process what the person is saying to you.

Being attentive and looking engaged is important for active listening

A good way to ensure that you’re actually listening is to repeat what the person has said to you. This can be in the form of summarizing their thoughts, paraphrasing their feelings, and asking questions for clarification. By repeating what the speaker is saying, you’re not only showing the speaker that you’re listening to them, but you’re also creating a mutual understanding between the two of you. This alignment will give you the ability to lead your workers in a direction that works for both of you.

2) Use Non-verbal Cues

Your non-verbal feedback is equally as important as verbal feedback when showing someone that you’re actively listening to them. Learning to appropriately use your body language to show you’re paying attention goes a long way in strengthening the relationship between the speaker and listener. You can start by making eye contact to show the speaker that you’re listening to them, and nodding periodically to show that you understand what they’re saying. Limit the distractions that could take your attention away from them. This means putting down your phone, turning off your computer, and removing anything else that will keep you from concentrating on the conversation. These simple actions will reassure the speaker that you care about what they have to say.

Don’t focus so much on your non-verbal that you let your mind wander from what the person is saying to you. Do just enough so that the person is encouraged to keep talking, but not so much that you’re distracting yourself. This will help strengthen the relationship between you and your workers, and reassure them that their thoughts are valued.

Even in an position of authority, you can appear friendly, open, approacable.

3) Remain Approachable

Active listening doesn’t only happen when a conversation is happening, but it also happens before the conversation even takes place. The first step is to remain accessible to your workers. If you’re a leader who often needs to be away from the office or who is sometimes unreachable, then it might be appropriate to look into Voice over IP communication, which makes it possible for you to be reached on any device that has an internet connection. This technology allows you to receive phone calls, text messages, documents, videos, and other forms of communication through a medium that is convenient for both the sender and the receiver, which will give your team the confidence to reach out to you.

Once your workers are confident they can reach you when the need arises, you have to help people feel comfortable enough to actually do it. You can do this by keeping an open mind during conversations and refraining from judgemental comments or statements. Encourage people to give constructive criticism without fear that they’re questioning your leadership. It also might be beneficial to learn how to be more inclusive with your workers to make sure you’re not unintentionally silencing the voices of those around you. The more you assure your workers that you are genuinely interested in the things they have to say, the more you’ll see them coming to you with questions and concerns— creating a more productive workforce.

4) Practice These Skills Outside the Office

The only way you can get better at active listening is to practice. While active listening has immense benefits in the workplace, it can also be very beneficial to your home life as well. Practice these skills when talking to your friends or your spouse, and keep doing it until these practices become second nature for you. You’ll find that not only will your personal relationships improve, but you will slowly build trust and gain respect from the people you manage as well.

One CEO’s commitment to diversity in the tech industry – An Interview

Toby Martin, CEO of Extensis

This past Fall, when I was facilitating the National Diversity Council’s one day Unconscious Bias training in Portland, Oregon, I was pleasantly surprised that one attendee investing the full day with us was the CEO of a local Tech company. Since that time, I have stayed connected with Toby Martin, CEO of Extensis, and recently he announced Extensis’ commitment to a Portland-based initiative called the “TechTown Diversity Pledge.”

As a diversity and inclusion consultant and trainer, I often to write about various manifestations of under-representation of minorities in various industries or various levels of leadership. So I am very pleased when CEOs realize this strategic criticality of diversity. I decided to chat with Toby (virtually) to understand more of what was driving his focus on D&I.

STAN: Toby, first, can you tell me a little more about Extensis and your business?

TOBY: Extensis (link) is a 27-year old software firm headquartered in Portland, Oregon. When we broke ground in 1993, we set out on a mission to remove the barriers that impede creativity. Specifically, helping individual professionals and organizations working with digital media to control the chaos so they maximize the value of these assets, accelerate their workflows, and focus on inventing amazing. Today we are proud to be working with hundreds of thousands of creative professionals across the globe whose work inspires us every day.

Portland, Oregon …. Stumptown AND TechTown!

STAN: That is exciting news about Extensis taking the TechTown Diversity Pledge. What does this mean for your business?

TOBY: What it means is that we’re more assertively moving into the space occupied by fellow tech leaders in Portland who all care about the same thing – building diversity in our micro-technology community and in the macro-community of the great Pacific Northwest. Internally, the Pledge lays out a series of steps and actions we agree to, including training our whole team on issues of diversity. Best of all it gives us more people we can meet with and collaborate with on moving the needle. With 30 companies it also facilitates idea sharing and workshopping so we can all learn from each other in a smaller space (where often large membership events can be challenging).

STAN: As a CEO, I know you must have 1,000 things on your mind at any point in time. Why are you as the CEO so focused on diversity instead of just relegating it to your HR team?

TOBY: Interesting question and one that seems very common. I’ve heard it many times and I think this notion that it should be relegated to HR might be frustrating progress…let me explain. If this is an HR only initiative, then it becomes just that, HR; however, if coming from the CEO then it becomes a company-wide business objective. I strongly believe that we can only grow and expand our value to our customers, our employees, and our community if we are bringing in more diverse opinions and inclusivity, so it’s important that we are embracing this from all perspectives within the company.

STAN: Have you had any particular diversity experiences personally that has helped you become such a strong proponent of diversity?

TOBY: Absolutely. Having been in the tech industry for over 20 years and working with clients and teams in many states and countries, you see people from all cultures contributing with their unique perspective. What many people seem to overlook is that whomever your clients or ultimate end customer is, they are likely a diverse set so how would someone of a single age understand multiple generations, for example?

One of the fellow TechTown Diversity Pledge company members and I met, and we discussed several examples from his career which only led to violent agreement – diversity is a business imperative to improve and succeed.

Yes, the diverse talent pool within the technical industry certainly needs to be broadened.

STAN: What do you hope to see in Extensis’ future in terms of diversity? Do you have your own corporate goals?

TOBY: We do have big goals and plans, but not only numerical in nature. Again, starting with learning management and the plan to enlist the entire organization in support of DE&I; then moving toward manager training on deeper topics like micro-biases in hiring and performance management for 100% of managers; then naturally attracting talent where people have walked different journeys to come to the same place by looking at the applicant and employee pool with TechTown PDX to analyze the data; lastly one major goal is that every single employee supports this and is engaged at a high contributing level. This annual survey TechTown PDX puts out provides more solid benchmark data than we’re been able to find elsewhere and can be found here. (Link to TechTown Diversity Data Report.)

Outside of Extensis I’m looking to learn from notable organizations and thought leaders, hopefully connecting supporters and advocates from disparate groups and increase the impact!

STAN: Is there anything else you would like to share?

TOBY: To stop others from repeating the same mistakes, I would offer that you must be selective and strategic with your efforts or you can easily become overwhelmed by all the opportunities to get involved. What I looked to do was combine local groups with national while being careful in evaluating the missions of each; all while looking for supporters who I felt could lend diversity in my goal of learning and hearing from other allies. I can easily say that every webinar, phone call, event, or anything I read or attend teaches me something I can use, but there is also only 24 hours in a day, so spend them wisely!

STAN: Toby, thank you very much for your insights, and I wish you and Extensis the best of business success and your strategically focus on increased diversity and inclusion in your company and industry.

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Please do read my recent related blogs:

• After reading an article in the Triangle (NC) Business Journal that featured the CEOs of our area’s 50 fastest growing companies, with 88% being led by white men, I wrote “Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership – A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach, Part 1.”

• And in part 2, I share Five Tactics to Address the Systemic Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders.

• Guest blog “Competing in Business as an Underrepresented Entrepreneur” contributed by Marissa Perez of Business Pop continues the theme of underrepresented minorities in business senior leadership roles.