Learning to Listen as a Leader

Kouzes and Posner in The Jossey Bass Reader on Nonprofit and Public Leadership describe the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. This fellowship has given me the opportunity to be around many leaders. Here at the Carolina Thread Trail and the Catawba Lands Conservancy, I work closely with Tom Okel, the Executive Director. I see him interact with many other leaders and people of influence in the government, the private sector, and in corporations. Of these five practices, there is one that stands out in my mind as one that is the most crucial and yet underutilized by many people with whom we interact. This practice is the ability to listen. To truly listen and to listen well.

When our organization goes to donors, foundations, grant committees, government officials, corporate partners, and volunteers, it is essential for us to hear what they are saying and understand their point of view. If a donor cares about contributing for reason X, we don’t want to waste all our time and efforts explaining to him or her the benefits of supporting us for reason Y. If townspeople in a rural county don’t support the growth of the trail in their area, we need to be able to understand their concerns so we can properly demonstrate our cause in a way that addresses those specific problems. The power of listening can demonstrate so many things.

I’ve been impressed by Tom’s ability to listen and process what other people say and I have been equally as surprised at the inability of other I’ve run across to apply this skill. I see Tom solve a problem faster by understanding the underlying issues and also demonstrate that the organization truly cares about the opinions of parties we work with. As a non-profit, we are so dependent on community engagement and support from all the sectors we work with it is no wonder this tool can be such a game-changer.