Listen for Leadership

As Project Managers, we are coached in many ways to be leaders. Often this advice involves speaking authoritatively, acting decisively and even dressing in a commanding fashion. Very seldom are we actually taught the techniques by which or even the value of actually listening to your team members.

Before you read on, unfortunately, I am not able to spew educated advice on the skill of actively listening. However, I have recently been reminded of just how important a use of my time it is and I wanted to emphasize this with all of you.

Truly exhausted, writing this at 30,000 feet tonight I am primarily drained from the effort it required to actively listen to stakeholders on a project for which we held a public meeting this evening. I was fairly well prepared with engineering facts, financial forecasts and schedule projections. I presented much of this information in a well scripted delivery full of enthusiasm, empathy and determination. A strong Project Manager. In hindsight however, I believe that much of this may have fallen on deaf ears. Tonight was our turn to listen to the people. Regardless of their contribution, tonight, my job was to patiently and earnestly listen to their thoughts and concerns.

This is a teaching moment for myself and all PM’s out there. Constantly pulled in all directions and taught to lead in all actions, the true skill of actively listening is not only difficult but rarely cracks the top ten priority list for us, the overworked. Many blogposts describe teambuilding techniques and leadership traits which endear PM’s to their teams. Tops on the underrated list of mandatory leadership qualities is, first the willingness and second the skill to actively listen to your team members.

I state these two subsets of listening in separate and intentional order. I do believe that your willingness to try, in this case, is not only mutually exclusive to, but more important than, your skill. For many, it is arguably more difficult to prioritize the activity of listening above the monumental to-do list you are facing. This is a very large misjudgment of priorities.

Only after having listened first will your team know that you understand and have considered their input. They are appreciated and you will be a better PM and leader for it (you might just learn something!). In the end, all leadership recommendations remain valid. Your fact based, authoritative and just management style is critical to your teams success. You won’t have to apologize for going against team members’ recommendations if they know that you listened to them first before guiding the team in the best direction for the project. When you do speak, do so authoritatively, but only after honest and active listening.

It is in the act of listening that the true opportunity to lead is provided. You must begin here before you can act decisively as a Project Manager.

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