Don’t forget to listen!

An often overlooked leadership skill can improve your effectiveness.

At the recent 4-H Teen Leadership and Community Change Workshop, youth from all over the state of Michigan experienced and practiced different forms of leadership. Skills ranging from public speaking and managing meetings to organizing community service projects were discussed, as well as networking and learning from their peers. One skill that was used often but isn’t often a topic of discussion is, listening.

In a noisy world, leaders often feel the need to talk often and loudly in order to be heard which is why public speaking is an important skill for budding leaders to master. However, it is also important for leaders to know when and how to listen in order to truly understand their groups and to ultimately be a better at what they do.

Both youth and adults can benefit from sharpening their listening skills. Here are a few times when aspiring leaders should be listening according to Michigan State University Extension:

  • In group discussions. Sometimes youth feel the need to prove themselves in a group discussion and will offer many opinions on the matter at hand. A wise leader will use this time to listen to others to be able to better facilitate action steps or decision making later on, instead of trying to dominate the conversation.
  • After asking a question. Often people will ask questions and then either jump too quickly to giving answers or will be formulating their own answers in their head instead of listening to others’ answers. In a group discussion or public speaking situation, try waiting a few seconds to give people time to think about their answers before speaking again. In a conversation, focus on the other person’s story and possibly ask them follow-up questions before jumping in with your own story.
  • When you have a chance to interact with a leader you admire. Young leaders may feel the need to try to impress adult leaders, but you will get far more out of a situation if you use it as a learning opportunity. Observe how certain leaders interact with others and how they facilitate discussions. If it is appropriate for the situation, ask them questions about their experiences or how they learned their skills (and following the previous tip, listen to the answers!).

A good leader knows that it is appropriate to balance speaking with listening. Teens who are working on improving their leadership skills can easily practice this skill to become better leaders. MSU Extension offers workshops, curriculum and other resources to help youth practice their leadership skills! 

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