Is compassionate listening the secret to effective leadership? – Legal practice management

The character traits of exceptional leaders have been analyzed, criticized and extolled by many for centuries, even millennia. Think Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Bonaparte, Ghandi, Churchill, JFK.

What are these traits and have the evaluation “experts” understood? Certainly, being visionary, communicating effectively, taking responsibility and holding team members accountable are important, even essential. However, the effectiveness of your work will never exceed your ability to lead and influence others.

People don’t want to be directed. They want to be led.

According to Midja Fisher, a recognized expert in developing legal leaders and former partner at an ASX-listed national law firm,

“If law firms want to survive and thrive in this market, they need to develop great legal leaders. They can no longer select their best technical lawyers and appoint them people managers, hoping they will rise to the occasion. of the opportunity. Market-leading law firms are investing time and energy in leadership development, facilitating soft skills training”

According to studies from the University of Sheffield on the application of emotional intelligence in the workplace, people management is three times more important than research and development (R&D) and six times more important than business strategy in improving productivity and performance.

Essentially, emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to listen to and understand your own emotions and being able to read, understand, and know how to react to the emotions of others.

Listening and really listening to your employees builds trust.

While I won’t claim it’s the only attribute needed, a leader’s ability to engage in compassionate listening is essential to building the trust that will engage and align the team to vision and purpose.

When we enter a state of compassion, we commit to helping our people, not just acknowledging them as we do when we empathize. With compassion we ask “How can we help?” For leaders, recognizing the difference between empathy and compassion is key to inspiring and effectively managing others, according to Rasmas Hougaard, author of The Mind of the Leader, published in conjunction with Harvard Business Review.

For me, compassionate listening isn’t just a token action of (as my eighth-grade geography teacher often said), “Think and Listen.” It involves three equally important steps:

1. Intuitive listening;

2. Understanding and commitment;

3. Ask how we can help you.

By intuitive listening, I mean listening to understand, not just listening to respond. To be present. Do not interrupt. No distractions. To ask questions. Listen with open eyes, heart and mind.

Checking the messages on your cell phone at this point or even looking at your watch will only serve to convince your team member that you don’t really care!

Second, there is a need for both understanding and engagement – ​​asking questions, responding nonverbally, and seeking deeper understanding of the issue and perspective. Have the emotional intelligence to resist the urge to jump in and tell stories. Only give advice when you really understand where the other person is coming from and why.

Finally, compassionate listening requires both reinforcement and evidence. By repeating and verbalizing concerns, identifying with their situation, and suggesting potential ways forward, the highly effective and compassionate listener will earn respect, trust, and trust—the credibility needed to lead.

The antithesis of compassionate listening, of course, is the hypocrisy of non-advisory managers who merely berate or demand that their subjects “do as I say, but not as I do.”

The good news for leaders is that by strengthening our own compassionate skills, we experience many more positive emotions ourselves, because the strength of compassion comes from the same neural networks as love – as opposed to empathy. , which is associated with fear and suffering.

And, there’s nothing more disarming than a leader who admits their own shortcomings, shares the story of their mistakes, and shows genuine interest and concern for their team. Add to that compassionate listening and a leader will quickly establish trust and credibility. When I give honest but respectful feedback to a team member about a mistake they made, I find nothing lessens the hedgehogs like the story of a similar mistake I made at some point in my career. Give credit, take blame and admit your own flaws! And always actively listen to what they have to say about their perspective on error.

When you speak you say something you already know, when you listen you might learn something.

By engaging in this way and treating staff with sensitivity, respect and honesty, an emotionally intelligent leader not only benefits the organization – their team will bring home their fulfillment and feel valued, also become better stewards. in his domestic life. The circle of trust becomes the ring of empathy.

Above all, compassionate listening enables a leader to be effective; build character before skill – trust and transparency trumping technical expertise.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

Jon J. Epps