Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Makes a Strong Leader?

What Makes A Strong Leader?
The Art of Listening

“Among all the ferryman’s virtues this was one of the greatest: he understood how to listen as very few did.  Vasudeva spoke not a word himself, and yet the speaker sensed how he allowed the speaker’s words to enter him, with tranquility, openly, waiting, how he lost not one, waiting without impatience, without praise or blame, simply listening.  Siddhartha felt what a joy it is to tell everything, to sink one’s life, one’s own seeking, one’s own suffering into such a listener’s heart”—Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

Have you ever emptied your soul to someone, and you knew that as you spoke, they were not only listening to you, but also hearing you? Did you feel lighter? Less cluttered? Empathic listening is one of the greatest and most productive skills an individual can develop in his or her lifetime, and yet it is seldom prioritized or even practiced.  In fact, during our time spent within the highly individualized meritocracy that is our formal education system, we are rarely encouraged to develop skills for the sake of benefiting others instead of ourselves.  This is a grave mistake. 

With our eyes fixed to our cellphones, tablets, and laptops, we are constantly updating profiles, Tweeting, posting pictures, etc., for no one in particular.  As we “+share” into the indeterminable void of cyberspace, in small ways, we dole out pseudo-validations—“likes”, “favorites”, “retweets”.  But as this practice becomes commonplace, the craft of listening and hearing is lost.  This not only does a disservice to ourselves and each other, but also the world.  The ability to listen and to hear one another is how bonds of friendship are formed, bridges of understanding are built, and progress is made—between people, between communities, and between nations. 

Strong leadership comes in all shapes, sizes, and personalities, but a leader cannot make meaningful progress without listening to her constituents.  An empathic listener removes the clutter—she makes your objectives clear.  She makes your concerns and ideas feel heard.  I am hardly the first to note a dearth in this type of social-emotional learning, but I hope that as more research on the benefits and importance of this skill is published, it, and similar leadership tools, are adopted more formally into school curricula.  We all have so much to learn from each other, if we could only slow down and connect.