Two ears, one mouth: The importance of listening in leadership
The Sector > Workforce > Leadership > Two ears, one mouth: The importance of listening in leadership

Two ears, one mouth: The importance of listening in leadership

by Freya Lucas

January 24, 2023

Many people may be familiar with the saying “you have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you speak”. 


When in a leadership position, listening to the perspectives of others – be they educators, children, families, or voices from the broader early childhood education and care (ECEC) community, is a vital component of effective leadership and developing enduing professional relationships. 


One downside of being in an ECEC leadership position is that you are removed somewhat from the reality of what is happening “on the floor”. This sometimes means that as a leader there is a disconnect, and that there may be diminished awareness of important elements or issues which might be critical when it comes to making decisions. 


Having regular conversations and check-ins with team members can help to maintain this connection, but for those conversations to be effective, leaders need to not only ask good questions, but also to be prepared to deeply listen to the responses. 


Three main skills will support leaders to be effective listeners, and therefore more effective leaders. 


Be open to multiple perspectives


One of the most important traits of effective leaders is that they don’t live in echo chambers. Just as the approved learning frameworks ask educators to consider multiple points of view, so should leaders be open to hearing the positions, perspectives and points of view of others in their team. 


Often leaders will be asked for their thoughts, positions or perspectives on something, but these should be strongly informed by the reality of those working under them, and to get that point of view good leaders need to be good listeners.


Ask better questions


Individuals will often have a desire to keep those who are in charge happy – after all, no one wants a boss who is mad at them. Sometimes this means people will give answers, positions or perspectives that they think the person in charge wants to hear. 


Because of this, it’s important for leaders to ask follow up questions, and dig a little deeper. Asking about the challenges people are facing, what the barriers are to them meeting their goals, or for more specific information about what they’re telling you. 


Learning more about the details of what people are saying, asking questions about how they meet certain goals or criteria, or what resources they need will help leaders to respond to situations, issues and tasks more thoughtfully. 


Process the information, feed it back to the speaker


Active listening requires the listener not only to hear what is being said, but also to take what they are being told and feed it back to the speaker, to demonstrate their understanding.


A true test of listening is being able to repeat back what the speaker has said in a way that affirms the understanding is correct on both sides. This also helps to clear up any misconceptions.


As a bonus, this active listening helps leaders to grow their own knowledge base, which in turn makes them better problem solvers. 


For more information, tips and advice about the role of listening in leadership please see here.

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