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We all can understand that leaders must be good communicators. Speaking and writing well are essential tools of the trade. But how well do we listen?

In the book of Proverbs, the writer repeatedly instructs students to “hear” their words. The Hebrew verb, shama, indicates a deliberate process of paying attention to what is being said with the intent to obey or take action.

Listening to someone is about paying careful attention to them. These days, it can be hard to hear others — for reasons that range from the practical to the political. Face masks make it difficult to understand what someone is saying. Multitasking is an impediment to sustained focus. Political views that are extremely different from ours make us not want to hear the people who hold them.

To listen well, we must minimize distractions. Review the last 30 days on your calendar. How much time did you set aside to listen to others, to yourself and to God?

The consequences of leading without listening well are familiar — and potentially catastrophic. We cast a vision. We make plans. But when it’s time to take action, the commitment from the group falls far short of our expectations. When this happens, it’s tempting to lay the blame for this disappointing dilemma at the feet of unwilling or unavailable volunteers. But let’s ask ourselves a crucial question: How well did we listen?

When we listen well, we might be surprised to hear something we did not anticipate. For instance, the headlines and the national surveys tell one story about young adults and their faith, but when we have lunch with a young Christian (or non-Christian) and listen to what they have to say in their own words, we might learn more than we expected. What other surprises might be in store when we listen well?


Resources

Holy listening helps connect young adults

By Dori Baker and Tobin Belzer

Listening well

By C. Kavin Rowe


Before you go…

It’s tempting to think that a leader’s primary job is to have all the right solutions. Leaders do indeed solve problems, but in the long run, a leader’s best attribute is his or her desire and ability to listen. Corporate leaders listen to customers. Political leaders listen to constituents. Teachers listen to students. Citizens listen to one another.

My pre-teen daughter came home from her first week-long overnight camp. As we drove back home, she told funny stories about what happened. Then I asked her, “What did you learn about yourself this week?” As I listened to her candid and self-reflective response, I learned so much about how she sees herself and what she needs from me as a parent. I’ll keep listening. 

As always, you can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading (and listening)! 

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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