Leaders Are Listeners

Nleaders are excellent listeners. As much as 50 percent to 60 percent of a leader's time is spent listening. The key to being an excellent listener is listening not only for the words, but for what is going on behind the words. Listen for the real message and focus all your attention on the person who is speaking. In meetings and in your conversions with others:

Listen attentively. Clear your mind and focus on what the speaker is saying. Don't try to “fake it” because it won't work: People will know that your mind is elsewhere. Researchers have shown that in conversations, words themselves comprise only 7 percent of a message. The rest of the message is conveyed through your tone of voice (38 percent) and, most important, your body language, which accounts for 55 percent of the message. Physically adjust your body and adopt a listening posture, by leaning forward toward the speaker. This gesture sends a clear message to the speaker that you are listening. And don't interrupt. If you are talking, you are not listening.

Pause before replying. When the speaker stops talking or there is a break in the discussion, you may be tempted to jump in, assuming that the other person is finished. However, the person may just be reorganizing his thoughts momentarily before continuing. Your interjection at this point will be seen as an interruption. If you pause before replying and allow a moment of silence, you allow yourself to hear the other person's meaning at a deeper level. You'll have a better chance to understand what other people are saying because you are not busy formulating your own thoughts while they are still speaking. Finally, pausing when the other person has finished speaking sends a message that you are really listening and that you are carefully considering what the person has said before you offer a reply.

Question for clarification. Asking questions is another technique that proves that you were truly listening to what the speaker was saying and not just pretending to listen. Equally important, asking questions will prevent you from making the wrong assumptions or drawing the wrong conclusions about what the speaker was trying to say. Don't assume you understand if you are not sure. Drill down by asking questions such as:

“How do you mean, exactly?”

“How do you feel about that?”

Paraphrase what the speaker has said in your own words and repeat it back to the person. Not only will the speaker know you have been listening, but she will also know whether you have understood what she said. And if you have gotten something wrong, the speaker now has an opportunity to correct you.

Listen without interruptions. During the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon sent a message to Marshal Grouchy, who had 30,000 troops a short distance away from the battlefield. Because Napoleon had to send his message in haste, the orders that reached Grouchy were so confused that he did not know what to do and so did nothing. He sat there with 30,000 men while Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo just a few hills away and the entire course of European history was changed. And it was simply because of a lack of attentiveness to the message.

If you are a leader and a person wants to talk to you, close the door, turn off the telephones, and listen single-mindedly without interruption. Listening is one of the finest ways that you can learn what is going on. A casual attitude toward listening can be disastrous for you.

Live Like a Leader

Leaders are active and productive and set the example for others by working hard and long. However, effective leaders also know that lifestyle choices can make a big difference in their success. Leaders take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, which gives them the energy and peace of mind to deal with the challenges and stress of leadership.

Here are some lifestyle rules that the best leaders follow:

Get lots of sleep. With seven to eight hours of sleep, you will have more energy and be more alert, positive, and resilient. As a leader, you must be fully present at all times. You cannot allow yourself to be overtired or in any kind of a mental fog.

Recharge your batteries. Times of challenge and crisis can be especially exhausting. Although it may seem unproductive, sometimes it is necessary to take a full day off from anything that has to do with the business.

Shut down completely. Perhaps the best way to recharge your batteries is to shut down completely for thirty-six hours. From Friday night to Sunday morning, don't look at the computer or take phone calls or even study material from your office. Give yourself the equivalent of a Sabbath, and you will return to work more refreshed than ever.

Watch your diet. Your brain needs the right foods to work at optimal strength. Eliminate the three white poisons: sugar, salt, and flour. Avoid bread, desserts, soft drinks, and pasta. Instead eat fruits, vegetables, and high-quality proteins such as fish, eggs, or lean meat.

Get lots of exercise. The benefits of exercise are chemical. When you exercise vigorously, your brain releases endorphin — the “happy drug” — that makes you feel more positive, confident, and creative.

Start your day right. Start by exercising thirty to sixty minutes after you wake up, then eat a high-quality, high-protein breakfast. You will be set up for the day, ready to perform at your best.

Choose Quiet and Solitude

Our lives are filled with sounds that block off communication and interaction. Keep the television and, especially in the car, the radio off. Take advantage of the quiet time to talk to your family or to read or listen to educational, motivational, or inspirational materials. With DVR service, it's possible today to choose to sit in front of the television later, at certain convenient times. The TV or radio should not be used to fill up a void.

Daily periods of solitude are also important. Take thirty to sixty minutes a day to sit in silence with yourself. You will be surprised at the insights and ideas that emerge in the silence. You will also get a chance not only to plan your day, but to clearly think about what you want in the short and long term Practicing solitude on a regular schedule will give the calm, creativity, and relaxation required for great leadership. French writer Blaise Pascal wrote, “All the problems in the world originate because of man's inability to be alone in a room with himself.”

Maintain a Balance Between Life and Work

Workaholics are not effective. And often, people who bring work home do so because they don't have disciplined habits in the workplace. They waste time during the day socializing and then find that they have to work in the evening or on weekends. It is important to maintain a balance between your work life and your personal life. When you go home, resolve to set the business aside and spend quality time with your family.

Control Is the Key to Happiness

According to the Law of Control, happiness depends on how much you feel you are in control of your life. Unhappiness is the degree to which you feel that you are not in control, or that your life is controlled by outside factors or by other people.

Psychologists refer to our “locus of control.” You have an internal locus of control when you are in charge, when you determine what happens to you. It makes you feel strong and purposeful. You have an external locus of control when you feel that you do not control your life. Circumstances, other people, but even your own personality traits can be allowed to control what happens to you. For example, some people know that they have bad tempers that undermine their effectiveness in working with others. But they absolve themselves of responsibility by saying, “Well, that's just the way I am”

Leadership is about responsibility, and that includes the responsibility for taking control of your life and ensuring your happiness.

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