Listening is a skill, and it takes practice, practice and more practice to be a good, active and empathetic listener.
Leaders bring professionals together who share common goals, and in order to do that a leader has to motivate and inspire. A leader won't accomplish this if he/she doesn't practice "active listening." If being an exceptional leader is something you aspire to be, then there needs to be a desire to have exceptional listening skills.
And, there does need to be a desire to be a great listener.
Think about how we were taught to listen in school - it wasn't active listening we were taught, it was passive listening, "sit down, shut up and listen" - right? Where is the active, participatory listening in that schooling?
Let's break it down - Active Listening Skills 101:
Don't interrupt the person speaking - There is a fine line when it comes to interrupting someone who is verbally streaming a thought. An active listener will "interrupt" but only when the timing is right; when the need of further clarification is required before moving on to the next phase or topic.
Show you are paying attention by asking questions - Engagement is critical when it comes to active listening. The way to show that there's interest in what is being said is to investigate with further inquiry by asking questions.
Acknowledge the speaker by affirming statements - Good leaders will heighten the experience for the one who is speaking, and/or elevate crowd participation if it's a group scenario by sparking up healthy discussion, which ultimately motivates.
Summarize what's been said - Benchmarking is the term. Personally I call it 'clarifying' what's been said in my own words, so that I, in turn, can gather more information.
A way to train for better listening is to listen in new ways, such as: listen to new music, listen to your significant other's voice versus words, stand still and try to hear something out in the distance. Again, listening is a skill that needs practice.
One of the most important questions for a leader to ask him/herself is: Are you ready to listen? Because if the answer is no, what's the point?
Next step is to pay attention. Listening, is a decidedly active behavior, because listening requires focus. There is no need to take notes while listening, because if you are taking notes, that alters the focus and the ability to listen.
And, one of the most important things to realize about active listening is this: it's an interaction between two or more parties. The purpose of an interaction is illumination; to have insight, to walk away with something that you didn't know moments before, which of course, progresses your cause, mission or goal forward.
Lastly, great leaders will have "empathetic listening" - but that's for another post.
Here's a great link to a study called, LISTENING AND LEADERSHIP: A STUDY ON THEIR RELATIONSHIP. It was an applied research project submitted to the National Fire Academy as part of the Executive Fire Officer Program.