The Power of Listening

Listen up! Being the leader of a startup mean wearing a lot of different hats. Sometimes this means you get to be a manager for the first time in your life. That could be an uncomfortable hat to wear for some people, especially people with little to no managerial training or experience. This brings us to the “good news, bad news” scenario. The bad news; being a great manager is the task of a lifetime. It requires talent, training, and experience. The good news; getting started along the path towards being a great manager is very simple. After speaking to several managers in the field, I’ve managed to boil their suggestions about how to be a good manager down to one extremely simple starting point; learn to listen.

To understand what makes a good manager lets first examine what makes a bad manager. Look at the stereotypes of what makes a bad manager; a control freak ruling over a company as a petty tyrant; the person who shoots a messenger; the demanding and inconsiderate person who makes demands of their employees with little knowledge of the company’s situation or its capabilities; and more. All of these are stereotypes and reality is always a little more complicated, but there’s still a valuable lesson to be learned from it. Each of these examples is the caricature of a person lacking an absolutely crucial managerial quality; listening.

Listening is, in no exaggerated terms, the most important skill a manager can possess. A manager is just a single person and, even in a small company, one person will never be able to provide the same insights as two. As your company grows, you will find that the amount of information you need to know grows as well. Eventually, this web information becomes far too vast for a single person to manage. At that point, if you aren’t listening to your employees who are on the frontlines being exposed to the problems and opportunities your company is facing, you are flying blind.

The true secret to listening as a skill is learning how to reserve judgment and action until you have a full. Listening is about learning to balance needing to know more with recognizing when you know enough to make a strong decision. Unfortunately, that is a managerial skill that can only be learned with time.