In Part 1 of this series of posts I identified four essential practices (Listen, Learn, Lead, Love) that have helped me experience leadership longevity and effectiveness. Longevity is important, and too many leaders quickly move from position to position, department-to-department, organization-to-organization, or church-to-church. They don’t stay in one place long enough to become effective and actually add lasting value and depth to the group they are responsible to lead. They usually move because they have lost their credibility to lead, for various reasons, and hope to do better at the next place. Some do. Some don’t.
The first of the four essential practices that lead to longevity is: LISTEN.
To listen requires discipline, discernment, and humility. It requires discipline because most leaders would rather talk than listen. It requires discernment because we must determine what to do with what we hear. It requires humility, because, to listen is to admit we don’t know all of the answers! That’s difficult for a leader.
Following are four groups I’ve learned to listen to carefully, followed by the benefit I receive by doing so.
Listen to your critics. “My critics help me get better!”
Few people are more frustrating to a leader than his or her critics. The leader will never meet their expectations. However, I have learned that there is an element of truth in every criticism. It’s that element of truth that I must find and embrace. My natural tendency is to deny or repudiate their sarcastic accusation, but I do so to the detriment of my own personal growth. I must be aware that they are not objective. I am not as bad as they tell me I am, but that’s OK. I can learn something.
Listen to your fans. “My fans help me stay encouraged!”
Every one loves a fan. They are the leader’s greatest cheerleader, especially during difficult times. My life and leadership has been greatly strengthened by these people. I know who they are, and I find a way to be close to them, especially when I’m down. I must be aware that they, too, are not objective. They are fans. I’m not as good as they tell me I am, but that’s OK. I can draw strength from them.
Listen to your target audience. “My target audience helps me stay relevant!”
Whether we sell a product, service, or message, we must listen to our target audience. What do they SAY they need? Sometimes, what they say they need is different that what they actually need, but we must begin with their perspective rather than our own. For me as a pastor, I often imagine various voices: of an abused wife or child who feels trapped, an unemployed father who feels useless, a cancer victim who feels hopeless, a teenager afraid of the future. Such voices help refine my vision, and help me and the organization I lead remain, relevant.
Listen to your Owner. “My owner helps me stay focused!”
The owner of any organization is ultimately our point of accountability. As leaders, unless we are the owner, we are managers of another person’s vision and resources. We must listen to their vision, agenda, and goals. It may be a single person or a board of directors. In my case, I am accountable to God. Above and beyond every other voice, the owners voice must remain the loudest and clearest to the leader’s heart.