Good Listening Leads to Greater Leadership


As a coach and consultant, I have clients ask me, “How can I learn to be a better communicator?”  My response is usually not what they anticipate when I reply, “By being a better listener!” They probably expected a response along the lines of “speak up and share more,” “use fewer words to get your point across,” “use language your audience will understand,” “tell a compelling story,” or “get to your point quickly.”

American culture is predominately individualistic, where “I” is valued over “we”, “extrovert” is thought more highly of than “introvert”, and where direct language is practiced in lieu of high-context communication in which pauses and gestures convey more meaning than the words themselves. Although most people would agree that communication is a skill that can be improved upon, most training tends to focus on how to speak more intentionally, powerfully, and persuasively, so the message is clearly heard, accurately understood, and elicits action. The reality? Although people spend more time listening than talking, surprisingly, they are on average about 25% effective at listening (Burley-Allen, 1995).

Your first thought is probably, “that sounds low,” and your next thought may be, “I’m a much better listener than average.” Whether that second thought is true, everyone can benefit from learning how to listen better. What are the benefits of good listening? Good listening leads to greater leadership, because good listeners forge strong relationships built on respect, trust, rapport, and validation, which in turn enables these leaders to influence others.

Good listening is not about hearing!  Listening is a sophisticated process that has not only multiple levels but also requires different skills and energy to achieve the highest level.  Burley-Allen (1995) describes three distinctive levels of listening:

  • Level 1: tuning in/out; follows conversation only to talk; not responsive; judgmental
  • Level 2: hearing content but not the feelings; not focused on the intent
  • Level 3: empathetic listening; nonjudgmental; acknowledging; responsive

Most people routinely practice either Level 1 and 2 listening in their daily lives; whereas, great leaders are adept at Level 3 listening. Good listeners have strong abilities to accurately receive and retain information, sustain their full attention through dialogue, attend to their own words, and encourage the other person to continue the conversation (Zhafir, 2000). As an empathetic listener, common skills you could practice include:

  • Paraphrase back the major ideas of the message and the underlying feelings of the speaker, so s/he can confirm you understood them accurately. You can say, “I hear the excitement in your voice when…” or “I can see the pain in your face when…”
  • Be attentive. Eliminate physical distractions (phone calls, internet surfing) and clear your mind of internal distractions.
  • Do not interrupt. Allow the speaker the space and time to fully express her/himself.
  • Listen without judgment. Empathetic listening does not require you to agree with statements or opinions but only to validate the speaker and his/her feelings.  Refrain from personal comments.  Ask questions for clarification.
  • Do not give advice. Instead, ask the speaker questions so s/he can figure out the problem and its solution.
  • Encourage by giving feedback. A speaker will know you are listening when you briefly respond with noncommittal acknowledgements (uh-huh, hum, I see) and head-nodding.
  • Affirm by using your body language. Appropriate facial expressions, leaning towards the person, and eye contact provide feedback to the speaker that you are interested.

Empathetic listening is not only a core coaching tool but also a powerful leadership tool. When people believe their leaders are listening to them, they develop a conscious desire to listen in return. When leaders listen, people are open to influence, which is where change begins to happen. I can’t recall a great leader who wasn’t also a great listener.  Leaders are not great because of what they say, but in how they make you feel. Empathetic listening makes you feel validated, respected, and open to being enthusiastically led.

My brief story demonstrates how a great leader can even impactfully use the word “listen.” In 1989, I was a young engineer working on a strategic project with a director within my division at Mobil Chemical. We were to evaluate and recommend whether the company should invest capital to manufacture the components of passenger car engine oils to sell to our parent company, Mobil Oil. Tony Kam and I were to present the findings to Phil Matos, President of Mobil Chemical. As I waited nervously for Phil and his team to join us in the conference room, I wondered about his demeanor and temperament. When Phil entered, he walked towards me, introduced himself, and extended his hand, which I firmly clasped. He then surprised me by cupping his other hand over mine and said, “I’m looking forward in listening to what you have to share with us today.” Most people usually say,” I look forward in hearing what you have to say.” His handshake and choice of the word “listen” versus “hear” were powerful and remain etched in my memory. Regardless of the vast difference in our salary grades, I can honestly say, that I would have followed him in any direction he wanted to go.

I am sure everyone has a personal reflection involving a person they would emphatically follow. What characteristics does that leader have that draws you into being led? Although leaders typically have several powerful attributes, I would guess that one of those characteristics would likely be in how s/he made you feel, which probably came through empathetic listening. Empathetic listening is one of the greatest gifts one person can give to another. The good news? Great listening is a skill that can be learned.


Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The forgotten skill: A self-teaching guide (2nd ed.).  New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Zhafir, R. (2000). The zen of listening: Mindful communication in the age of distraction. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books

144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, and leadership which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement. She coaches in a variety of areas including leadership, life purpose/plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.

The Backlashes Leaders Should Be Aware of with Flexible Working?


mikayla-mallek-3iT3dnmblGE-unsplashWorkplace environments and their cultures continue to evolve as globalization, technology advancements, and the footprint of the Millennials continue to widen and influence work structure, processes, and the office design. How are these events changing the way companies internally do business? What are the potential backlashes from moving fast into the future? How can leaders keep their teams cohesive, productive, and moving in one direction?

Korn Ferry (2017) issued a series of reports on talent recruitment and what employees are demanding when they select an employer. In 2016, company culture (employee focus and inclusiveness) and career progression were top considerations for new talent as compared to just five years before when benefits and a company’s reputation were top contenders. By 2022, talent acquisition professionals believe company culture will remain high and flexible working (remote, cloud offices) will be the number one consideration. Millennial preferences are influencing work design based on their numbers. In 2015, Millennials accounted for ~ 30% of the working population with forecasts estimating their growth to more than 50% by 2025 (Woods, 2016).

Will companies have a hill to climb in maintaining a company culture with a reputation of being inclusive and employee-focused while integrating cloud offices, remote working, and flexible working schedules? At one end of the continuum you have the full team, each with an office or cubical, who works together between 8 am – 5 pm. On the other end of the spectrum, the office is virtual, with employees working remotely through cloud based connection and occasionally meeting in groups at temporary facilities or informal settings. How far down this continuum will businesses move to accommodate their workforce preferences? Can a virtual company realistically maintain an inclusive culture?

Most people would agree that greater work flexibility is inevitable, because it will be demanded and technology can enable virtual communication. Despite employees’ favor in having more work-life balance, what are some of its potential backlashes that leaders should be aware of and prepared to mitigate? Direct costs may be a factor? Although savings can come from reducing the office footprint, there will likely be increased costs in Cyber security, technology hardware/software, and temporary facilities. What side of the balance sheet those costs land on will depend on the company, but leaders should also be identifying and evaluating the not-so-obvious costs?

What about productivity? Can job responsibilities be redesign in a way that allows for remote access without sacrificing productivity? Some companies may benefit on the bottom line from salaried employees who will voluntarily give back a portion of their 2-3 hours of daily commute time, as they feel more refreshed and focused at the home office. However, do all employees have the discipline to work remotely? Some employees, whose jobs can be performed remotely, still do best in a structured environment away from the home. They may have a difficult time staying focused and making the transition back and forth between work and personal responsibilities. These are all questions and issues employers will have to wrestle with and decide how to accommodate without sacrificing productivity.

working from home sign

I believe a high-risk backlash is the erosion of organizational cohesiveness and having employees feel they are part of the team. Lack of face-to-face interaction can result in employees feeling alienated, lonely, and disconnected from their colleagues. Although video conferencing and social media can bring team members together, they cannot substitute for the natural relationship building that is co-constructed in conversation shared over a cup of coffee, lunch, or a hallway chat. These naturally occurring interactions make people feel valued, affirmed, and more accountable to the team. These unplanned or casual interactions provide opportunities to form personal bonds, mentor, discuss impromptu business ideas, and consider creative solutions. Strong co-worker relationships create a shared sense of purpose that goes beyond performing for a paycheck.

Another potential backlash is the concern, anxiety, and wasted energy that employees have about their performance and future opportunities when they work remotely. Working in an office environment allows employees to receive daily spoken and unspoken feedback on how they are contributing and presenting themselves. With employees fearing “out of sight, out of mind,” they wonder what implication that remote and flexible working will have on their performance appraisal, future promotions, and general opportunities.

Communication may be another area that becomes more challenging in a working environment where employees routinely call in, video conference, or read an email summary.People have always struggled with accurately giving and receiving communication. Future work styles may put additional stress on the frequency and accuracy of messaging.

Burley-Allen (1995) has broken down communication into three messaging parts: the words (7%), tone of voice (38%), and facial/body expressions (55%). Content and intent can easily be lost in translation through a conference call or email.  Do you remember a personal texting incident where you initiated a hailstorm that left you baffled and thinking, “That’s not what I meant?” The fact that we all probably have at least one story along those lines is not surprising, when you consider that 7% of communication is held in the words and leaves the remaining 93% up for interpretation. Whoever designed and launched Emojis was a godsend to the texting community. At least now the receiver can infer some “tone of voice” and “facial expression.”

Changing work structure and processes will naturally change co-worker relationships.  Change is inevitable, so how can a company and its employees navigate this change well? As is usually the case, there is no silver bullet or one thing that companies should focus on. Success is usually built by doing several things well, and I believe companies inherently have the knowledge to set a vision for their future, create goals to get there, understand and overcome obstacles, and hold themselves accountable. Sometimes leadership needs a partner. Coaches are change experts, and I believe organizational and leadership coaches will be called to work more frequently beside leaders to help them move their teams from where they stand to where they want to be.


Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The forgotten skill: A self-teaching guide (2nd ed.).  New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN: 9780471015871.

Korn Ferry Institute. (2017). The talent forecast, part 1: Adapting today’s candidate priorities for tomorrow’s organizational success. Retrieved from

Woods, K. (2016). Organizational ambidexterity and the multi-generational workforce. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 20(1), 95-111.

HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.

How Companies Can Maximize Employee Performance and Build High Functioning Teams?

campaign-creators-gMsnXqILjp4-unsplashYou’re probably familiar with the old saying: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Based on my informal conversations around the coffee bar, this seems to be a more common theme expressed by long-term employees as a perception of their employer’s time, energy, and resources to recruiting new talent in comparison to investing in current employees. Many frustrated professionals are asking, “What about me? What about my future?” They perceive being left behind as their companies offer more support and promises of opportunities to new hires to acquire top talent.

As a coach, I hear many professionals express disappointment in their current employers, whom they believe are not or are only superficially investing in them. Many don’t feel valued and appreciated for what they are or can contribute. When I ask, “How could your company take greater advantage of your performance capabilities,” common responses are: (1) provide me with stretch opportunities that help me grow, yet are still aligned with my abilities and interests, and (2) help me manage the cultural changes influenced by the waved of Millennials entering the workforce.

Saladhuddin (2014) described the four distinct generational cohorts: Veteran (Traditionalist), Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Millennial/Nexter. Most Veterans have left the workforce with Baby Boomers also rapidly entering retirement. As of 2015, the estimated distribution of the three most represented workforce cohorts was nearly equal with Baby Boomers at 29%, Gen Xers at 34%, and Millennials at 34%, with the latter projected to increase to 50-75% of the workforce by 2025 (Woods, 2016). Ten years from now, the Millennial worldview identity will likely have the greatest influence on the workforce landscape, but businesses will still need the skills, experiences, and talents of the remaining Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.

campaign-creators-e6n7uoEnYbA-unsplashHistorically, new employees acclimated to their company’s culture, now culture is adapting to accommodate rapid globalization and technology advancements as well as the influence of the Millennial work identity. These factors are pressing American companies to rethink the way they do business, who to hire, and how their culture will have to change to position themselves for success.

A company’s cultural has never been more in question. A recent Korn Ferry Institute (2017) study showed that executives believe the main reason that candidates join or leave an organization is because of its culture. Millennials want to feel good about where they work and have a shared sense of purpose. Gen Xers want to take their skills to a place where they can make an impact.

Strategic discussions on cultural change are more prevalent today as companies grapple with understanding their current culture, define a cultural vision, identify their cultural gaps, and act on a path to transform culture. Organizational studies (Kanter, 2012) show that most employees resist change either because of the environment or personal motivations. How can companies best help and empower their employees with cultural transformation without leaving them behind or having them leave? I believe the answer can be found in access to a combination of formal personal, team, and organizational coaching.

In the past, coaching used to be reserved for senior executives and leaders. In the current business climate, I believe all employees can benefit from coaching. Those organizations, who are the trailblazers in how they leverage human capital, will make coaching services available to their employees. An organizational and leadership coach can help employees find greater fulfillment, engage in cultural change, and meaningfully contribute to their organization’s strategy and goals.

linkedin-sales-navigator-YDVdprpgHv4-unsplashConstructive opinions, viewpoints, and comments welcome on this hot topic.

  1. Do you feel valued at your company and believe management makes reasonable efforts to tap into your talents for mutual benefit?  If not, why do you think your company is not utilizing your full abilities?
  2. What thoughts do you have in how companies could better leverage the power of all employees across generational identities?


Kanter, R. (2012). Ten reasons people resist change. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Korn Ferry Institute (2017). The talent forecast, part 1: Adapting today’s candidate priorities for tomorrow’s organizational success. Retrieved from

Salahuddin, M. (2010). Generational difference impact on leadership style and organizational success. Journal of Diversity Management, 5(2), 1-6.

Woods, K. (2016). Organizational ambidexterity and the multi-generational workforce. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 20(1), 95-111.

HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose/plans, business, finances, relationships, and premarital/marriage.

Are You Planning for a Successful Marriage?

brooke-cagle-G0j6mtBse_8-unsplashMost couples plan for their perfect wedding but often overlook planning for a successful marriage.  It’s not uncommon for a bride and groom to spend more on their wedding day than purposefully investing in their marriage over its lifetime. Parrott and Parrott (2015) found that less than 20% of all American couples had any type of formal marriage preparation, and research showed that about half of newlyweds reported serious marital problems and had doubts whether their marriages would last.

Husbands and wives enter marriage with a set of personal needs and expectations in how they will be fulfilled by their spouse. In many cases, these needs and expectations are unspoken, result from life experiences and family dynamics, and are biologically driven. Some couples are not in tune with their needs; whereas, others are apprehensive in asking for fear of rejection. A few husbands and wives have the unrealistic expectation that if their spouse really loved them, they would know what their needs were and act upon them. Since it is unlikely that most spouses read minds, I would suggest that it is never too late to schedule a quiet date, where a couple can ask powerful questions about needs and expectations.

A couple will invest more in their wedding ceremony than their marriage

If you are considering that date, it might be helpful to understand some typical gender differences in marital needs. These insights may help you better understand your spouse and why sometimes s/he acts in ways that confuse or frustrate you. With awareness, empathy, and sharing, I pray you can get more of your needs met in marriage.  Love is the willingness to hear and try to meet your partner’s needs. As my husband says to me, “Let me know what you need. If it’s not illegal or immoral, I’m on it!”

What does a wife need?

Many men confusingly ask, “What do women really want?” Research conducted by Markman and Kraft (1989) found that a wife’s most basic needs in marriage are to be cherished, be understood, and be respected. In my coaching experience, I often hear women say they need to feel safe in their marriages. I’d suggest that their concept of “safety” is weaved into their needs of being understood and respected.

justin-follis-A7Um4oi-UYU-unsplashA woman typically feels cherished, when she knows a husband puts her first among family, friends, and interests. She believes when push comes to shove her husband will choose her. The research also shows that when a wife believes she is cherished, she encourages her husband to pursue the things he enjoys (Parrott & Parrott, 2015). Men who cherish their wives not only show their wives but tell them they love them, especially when “words of affirmation” is a primary love language.

A woman feels understood when her feelings are validated and accepted (Parrott & Parrott, 2015). Men are biologically predisposed to speak less words and focus on solving problems. Husbands validate their wives by just listening to them share their feelings and struggles without solving their problems.

Wives need to feel as if they are equal partners in their marriages. Husbands can respect their wives by supporting their dreams and goals. When women do not feel respected by their husbands, they tend to feel insecure, unworthy, and may suffer depression.

Without awareness of female-driven needs, husbands will try to love their wives in the ways that they feel loved.  The same is true of wives’ approach in loving their husbands. Wives also need to understand their husbands’ basic needs, so they can love their husbands in ways that uplift their marriages.

What does a husband need?

God has a sense of humor. What was He thinking when he designed Adam and Eve, man and women, or he and she? Obviously, humans with enough similarities to be attracted to each other and enough differences to keep the relationship interesting. Men are not only physically and mentally different in their hard-wiring than women, their basic marriage needs are as well. The research by Parrott and Parrott (2015) suggest that wives should focus their efforts on satisfying their husbands’ needs to be admired, to have autonomy, and of enjoyment in shared activity with their spouses.

Men need words of encouragement from their wives in how they are meeting their needs. Contrary to women who will try harder to get admiration, men tend to lose motivation to try and choose to focus on something else that brings them that positive reinforcement. A wife should never resort to false praise but verbalizing specific behaviors to her husband that would please her and intentionally recognizing her pleasure when he acts will help to bridge the gap.

His vs Her Needs

Wives tend to use words to draw closer, but sometimes husbands need autonomy to regroup before they can engage in marital conversation. I learned this the hard way in my first marriage, when I would immediately start to vent the details of my work day to my husband upon walking into our home. My husband, who had an equally stressful day, needed to go to his “man cave” for half an hour, before he could have conversation.

A common compliant I hear men express during marital coaching is their deep desire to have their wives join them or share in a hobby together. Men typically comment, “I wish my wife would (1) join me fishing, (2) travel with me on business, or (3) come to one of my softball games….”  Men connect with their wives by doing things together, even if it is just sitting on the coach together watching a movie. Men bond to their wives through recreation; whereas, women feel intimacy by talking, sharing vulnerable moments, and cuddling.


What’s next?

Neither set of gender needs is right or wrong.  Instead, understanding the differences will hopefully make you realize that your spouse is not intentionally ignoring your needs. They are just focused on loving you in the way they feel loved.  You may already be aware of these differences. If not, hopefully you have more insight. Awareness is measured on a continuum, and wherever you are on that line, consider setting up a date to explore these gender differences. Review the sets of basic needs and share your answers to the following questions:

  1. For each of the gender needs discussed, how much does this basic need hold true for you?
  2. For each need, on a scale of 1-10 (10=highest), how well is your spouse satisfying that need? Provide examples that support your score?
  3. Give examples of how your spouse could strengthen that need for you?
  4. Pick at least one of your spouse’s needs that you will commit to focus on and describe how you will do it.


Markman, H. & Kraft, S. (1989). Men and women in marriage: Dealing with gender differences in marital therapy. The Behavior Therapist, 12, p. 51-56.

Parrott, L. & Parrott, L. (2015). Saving your marriage before it starts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage. You can contact her at 281.793.3741 or or 281.793.3741 to discuss whether coaching might be right for you.