When I think about leadership there are four key elements that spring to mind;

  1. Passion
  2. Vision
  3. Character
  4. Communicate

For me, this is what I think it takes to be a great leader, and they are also the four core elements I focus on for my own personal and professional development. Lately, I have been challenged that I should really add a fifth word on this list.


When it comes to leadership, conversations take place far more often than individuals in other roles. Whether a meeting or an impromptu chat, it is surprising how many of us use these opportunities to talk, rather than listen.  The real goal of these opportunities should be to hear, and either (a) deepen your connection to the organisation, or (b) to affirm the value you believe the speaker brings.

With this in mind, here are five practical ways you can drastically improve your listening skills.

1. Make the conscious decision to listen

The first step towards excellent listening involves setting the stage. Therefore, remove distractions, avoid scanning your environment while someone is speaking, and avoid the temptation to multitask.

2. Reschedule if needed

If someone wants to speak while you are preoccupied with another task, let them know that you need to postpone the conversation until another time. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s a given that we’re all busy, so such a request should come as no surprise. Your listening will be sharp and focused.

3. Pay extra-close attention to those you know well

Surprisingly, we tend to tune out those we speak to often because we have historical data embedded in our memory about their thoughts and feelings about issues, projects, and values. Each conversation is a fresh one, so make sure you give the speaker your undivided attention.

4. Ask the right follow-up questions

A great follow-up question is one that is closely related to the topic at hand because it demonstrates that you are interested in the discussion. Furthermore, ensure that the question is open-ended, which subconsciously communicates your interest to learn more about the topic. For instance, you could say, “Can you tell me more?”

5. End conversations that extend beyond your ability to be attentive

Each conversation eventually reaches a tipping point – if continued long enough – where you are no longer able to give the speaker your full attention. Once you notice your mind wandering, let the speaker know you will need to reschedule the remainder of the conversation for a later date.