Leadership & The Art of Listening

Contrary to what some might think, being a business leader isn't just about telling people what to do. Good leaders know how to listen. Being a good listener doesn't come naturally for most. It is a skill that must be practiced and honed. How is your listening?

Regardless of how long you have been in the business, good leaders are constantly growing, improving, and helping others do the same.

Part of that continual development process involves listening.

Being a good listener doesn’t come naturally for most. It is a skill that must be practiced and honed.


The ear gathers more wisdom than the mouth can ever utter. The best business leaders listen far more than they speak.

Who leaders listen to is important.

For instance, successful people from all walks of life have insight for business leaders.

Remember, the business leader is a professional and an individual with family, friends, and cares of his own.

However, for a business leader, ensuring the productivity and vitality of the business overseen is critical.

Listening is helpful in more than just business meetings.

Wise business leaders engage in diverse, active listening – specifically, they hear formally and informally.

They listen to feelings about specific jobs, processes, reports, sentiment, jokes, pain, and mockery. Business leaders do this without taking it personally.

By listening to people from a wide swath of backgrounds, the business leader may quickly ascertain the best way to communicate.

The listening ears guide the movement of the mouth or, as Epictetus put it, “We have two ears and one mouth – for a good reason.”

Listening could be no more accurate than with regards to the business leader. Successful leaders listen far more than they speak. And when they talk, they move organizations and influence people immensely.

Great business leaders are excellent listeners who are not influenced by:

  • Personal egos or agendas. They pose questions and actively listen to the responses, paying close attention to the respondents as they speak. These leaders are respectful of others regardless of their position with the organization.
  • The intrusions of others. They will quickly stop others from distracting them as they listen. Cell phones and other communication devices will be muted or left in their office for later review. They are great at being present in the moment. Employees and associates feel as if they are the only person in the room when speaking with this type of business leader. And, for this leader, employees and associates will make necessary sacrifices at pivotal times because they are validated.

Owners of assisted living homes find that nursing staff and other healthcare professionals will develop a sense of ownership in the house when you listen to them.

When they see their ideas and suggestions put into action, they know they matter.

The best result is the enhanced personalized care of the residents who benefit most from a leader’s ability to listen.

Listening is not a gift. It is a skill. It must be cultivated, sharpened, and put into practice continually.

People typically focus on public speaking and not listening.

While essential and often necessary, listening is far more powerful.

The listener knows what it takes to move people in a particular direction because the listener has a database for those he leads nestled between his ears.

The brain has stored for active use sufficient information to lead an organization because the leader is a strong, dynamic, diverse listener.

How does one become a great listener?

What does it take to ascertain meaning and intent when listening?

Below you will find answers to these inquiries and more information about diverse, active listening and the results it fosters for business leaders.


Business leaders experiencing success in their enterprises will often divulge their secret to any who will listen.
In general, many people do not listen, and they do not know they are not listening.

They are too busy conveying what they want to know instead of listening to what others want to know – this is not a play on words.

How often have you sat in a meeting, and only moments after its conclusion have you forgotten everything said? Why is this? The answer is simple. You did not feel like you were heard.

Honesty is best here.

Associates and employees want leaders who speak to the natural and evident daily challenges of the business.

Vision and mission speeches are excellent for new arrivals to the organization, but those heavily engaged in fulfilling the vision know what works and what does not.

When the business leader is ignorant of this reality, the organization suffers a loss of productivity and engagement.

Leaders should listen and listen often.


While it is easier said than done, the practice of active listening is just as much an art as it is a science.

However, the leader who is practicing and honing functional listening skills must be earnest in the attempt.

If sincerity is not present active listening will not transpire. Instead, while someone is speaking, the leader will be thinking of a response.

When this happens, people know. They know when a leader is putting on a reasonable effort versus when a leader is truly listening.

The reality is people can feel when you are distracted, and they can feel when you are engaged.

Put the art and science of active listening into practice by doing the following:

  1. Similar but Dissimilar. Many leaders make the error of thinking they know what a person is saying because their educational and social background is quite similar to their own. While these are similarities, every individual is just that – an individual. The leader risks missing the points of divergence due to job experience and present business challenges and will misconstrue the communication to fit the leader’s desire. Meshing words is considered manipulation by those who experience it, and leaders develop bad reputations by doing this. Be careful. Make sure to listen to what others say without considering your agenda.
  2. Curiosity does not kill the leader. Genuine curiosity is central to superior leadership. Leaders discover more than they invent. Be interested in people and the business enough to engage in explorations. By doing this, energy will fill the listening moment, and true contemplation will transpire. Associates and employees know when a leader is curious, and they relish opportunities to share their findings, knowing it will benefit the organization.
  3. My View and Their View. Embrace differences of opinion without malice. As a leader, you see the organization from a 10,000-foot level – this is the bird’s eye view. Leaders may mistake this view as superior to other views, but it is not. The significant disadvantage of this view is that leaders often can not determine the forest from the trees, nor can leaders see which tree may have fallen in the previous storm, but those in the forest know right when they lost two live oaks. They both see it and feel it. Be sure as a leader, you understand the views of others, and this only happens when they are heard and heard clearly. Get an understanding of varying views. Leaders have often found a change to their view was for the better, and that will only happen when leaders understand the views of others.
  4. Listen to what was not said. It sounds paradoxical, but it is entirely accurate. Hearing the exact words people say is rudimentary. Hearing what was not said, but insinuated is active listening. Not listening for what is left out leaves the puzzle incomplete. Great leaders are similar to great parents. They know when their child has left out important details. Likewise, leaders know when associates and employees divulge what they think leaders want to hear instead of what leaders need to hear.

Assisted living homeowners are some of the most critical leaders in healthcare today. They must listen with intensity.

Assisted living home employees must shift and adapt daily.

Residents have needs that fluctuate from one day to the next; yet, the employees adjust and adjust, making it appear that operations are constant.

Leaders in this industry should pay close attention to staff members working with residents daily.

Adjustments or alterations in residents often characterize changes within the home:

  • Medication
  • Health Condition
  • New or Emerging Illness
  • Balance
  • Family Life
  • Mood during the Holiday season

These things affect residents and can prompt an adjustment at the spur of the moment. Leaders in homes will quickly know of such changes by listening and observing.

That genuine curiosity indicative of authentic leadership will guide assisted living home leaders in the right direction.

As such, leaders will be able to listen and support employees and residents in earnest – this builds trust.

Trusted leaders can lead without much hindrance.


How do you practice the art of listening? Standard practices that make active listening doable.

  • The adage is true when it comes to active listening. A leader should walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. Leaders should listen with the experience in hand. Work with the employees or associates. Understand the rigor and intensity of the task. Know what it takes to achieve greatness at such a task and remember that when contemplating organizational change. Will it improve conditions? Will it cause unnecessary pain? Will it increase the workload?
  • Avoid thinking you know a person. Instead, let the person share with you who they are. People appear discernible at first glance, but the truth is people are complex. This complexity shows up when conditions become stressful or unbearable. Leaders often find themselves shocked at the behavior of certain people they thought they knew pretty well. The reality is humans are not stoic. Humans are dynamic and complex. Therefore, account for adaptations in employees and plan accordingly with an appreciation for a person to grow and change.
  • When a leader is speaking, pose more questions than answers. For instance, ask:
    1. “How exactly does this work?”
    2. “Does this add any value to your work?”
    3. “If one thing could change around here, what should it be?”
    4. “What has become more difficult since we enacted our last organizational change?”
  • When listening to others speak and share, chime in occasionally with a check-point question – this will keep you engaged and on the same page as the speaker:
    1. “So, I heard you say”
    2. “Do you mean that”
    3. “Am I interpreting this correctly.”

These check-point questions clarify meaning and context as the conversation is occurring, so misinterpretation does not happen.

Also, the employee or associate who is sharing knows you are listening actively to them. They will feel valued and understood.


Active listening is an art and a science that skillful leaders use daily.

It is the foundation of their communication style. It is also crucial to the success of an organization.

The Residential Assisted Living National Association seeks to aid owners and operators of assisted living homes nationwide.

The industry is growing, and consistency in service will be a defining factor in the industry’s success.

Please visit www.ResidentialAssistedLivingNationalAssociation.com today for more information about active listening and many other strategies for quality care.

Experience the Impact of the National Association

RAL Success Starter Packet

A collection of resources to help the residential assisted living professional maximize profitability and elevate care. Get this free packet which includes instruction related to Dealing with HOAs, Memory Care, Senior Health and Wellness, RAL Marketing, Home Tours, and Dementia.

What You Do for Seniors Matters

This packet is filled with practical and actionable steps to help you do good and do well. Where should we send your copy?