Early in my coaching career I realised I was acting out what I thought a good coach should be, but I had strayed from what felt authentic to me. I had a moment of clarity when I realised that jumping up and down like a box of frogs on the touchline wasn’t getting the outcome I intended.
I’ve spent a lifetime watching, learning and taking inspiration from people in all walks of life who lead effortlessly and have an incredible ripple effect without needing to relentlessly rant and rave.
Some managers and coaches have become parodies of themselves – pointing fingers, deflecting responsibility and playing the blame game with steely determination, without recognising that this doesn’t always bring out the best in a team.
One mouth, two ears
As humans, there is an indisputable reason why we were created with only one mouth and two ears. Yet leaders can often fail to see that, in order to influence and have impact, you don’t need to dominate the conversation.
A team that rides the wave of success is one that recognises it is the sum of all parts, where each person has a valuable role to contribute. Knowing your team is the Holy Grail of leadership – it enables you to see what makes people tick, what motivates them and how they can realise their full collective potential.
Listening is underrated and yet it is the key to really understanding people. We often feel that having a voice is how we assert authority, but how can we really navigate a high-pressure environment if we can’t read people and take time to listen to what matters to them?
Listen and learn
In my professional career in elite football, I soon realised that to make it in the game technical ability was a given, but the capacity to really understand people and help them challenge their own limitations was where the real magic happened.
Only by spending time getting to know players, could I really grasp what issues they were battling and how this was translating to their performances on the pitch. I can’t pay lip-service to this kind of thing because I feel that’s a disservice to the team. I believe it’s 100% my responsibility as a leader to develop great relationships as these are the foundation for everything we do.
I have a lot of time and respect for psychologists and I work with them on a regular basis, yet I learned the most about life from my own father. He knew exactly what to say and chose his moments with incredible intuition, which for me was psychology in action.
Top five listening tips
A great leader is an adept listener – observing and digesting both the spoken and nonverbal communication among the team.
Key listening tips include:
- Giving full attention to the content of a conversation, without any distractions
- Observing the pace of speech and the way something is articulated
- Seeing the visual communication coming to life through body language
- Going beneath the words to get a feel for the tone of the conversation
- Interpreting the emotional expression of how that person is feeling – often on a more instinctive level
A cuppa and a listening ear
While it’s important in the working environment to make formal time to exchange views and connect with other team members, there’s a lot to be said for the more impromptu opportunities to make time for people. If I can sense that someone is preoccupied or in some way not themselves, I will often suggest that we make a brew and have a quick chat. It can seem less daunting but it creates the space for someone to open up.
When stress levels are high at work, we often get our heads down and believe that ploughing on is the only way, but sometimes just a ten minute chat over a hot drink can diffuse a lot of tension and give people a chance to be heard. These simple but powerful moments can stop issues from festering and bring opportunities for clarity.
Teams that communicate well are more likely to gel and overcome adversity with greater ease. Simple yet critical gaps in communication are often the catalyst for internal conflict. A culture that supports people to express themselves, challenge the status quo and be heard by leaders is one that will provide a foundation for teams to truly thrive.