How I Learned About the Power of Authenticity
Lincoln's Secret to Greatness

atlantic puffin (fratercula arctica) in full voice.

“I would knock on his door and ask if he had a moment to talk. He’d set aside what he was doing, sit back, and give me his full attention. He was a busy man, but he made me feel there was nothing more important than what I had to say,” Andres reminisced.

“Were you his protégé?” I asked.

“No, he treated everyone like that.”

We were talking about Andres’ best boss.

Andres had thought he was following in the steps of his role model, and was quite surprised and disappointed when he got dinged for “listening” on his 360 assessment.

But Andres is not alone. Research shows that most people think they are good listeners – much better than their colleagues – but are not nearly as good as they think they are.

There is a strong correlation between good leadership and listening.

Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of the greatest presidents was noted for his listening. Journalist Francis Fisher Browne observed each visitor was greeted with an encouraging nod and smile…. the President listening with the most respectful and patient attention.

Simply put by Richard Branson, “To be a great leader you have to be a great listener.”

Four Good Reasons to Be a Good Listener

  1. Your leadership will be appreciated.
  1. People are more motivated to share their thinking and make a contribution.
  1. You might learn something important you didn’t know.
  1. It’s the right thing to do – to recognize that each person is a human being who deserves the respect of being seen.

Learning the skills of active listening is helpful. But if you want to be a great listener, it’s not enough. You need to assume a listening attitude – listening with the intent to hear and understand, not simply to prove to the person speaking that you are listening.

Relying solely on the techniques of active listening amounts to no more than a theatrical production and ultimately comes across as not authentic.

If you want to assume a listening attitude, here are five things you can do that will help.

1. Give your undivided attention.

Don’t multi-task. Close your laptop, put away your phone, set aside your work.

You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time. ~ M. Scott Peck

2. Listen with your body.

Benjamin Perley Poore wrote about Abraham Lincoln: His favorite attitude when listening – and he was a good listener – was to lean forward and clasp his left knee with both hands.

3. Have patience with pauses.

Don’t assume you know what someone is going to tell you. Don’t assume you understand what they are saying.

Don’t interrupt or finish someone’s sentence, even if they pause. Let them find their own words.

4. Don’t start thinking of your response while you’re listening.

Pause before you respond, and have faith that your best response will arise after they finish speaking.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.  ~ Stephen R. Covey

5. Listen with curiosity.

Abraham Lincoln was as curious as he was attentive,” according to Historian Allan Nevins.

“Listening is not merely “not talking”; it means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us.”  – Alice Miller

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