Leaders Who Listen: The Secret Weapon of Successful Teams

Many of us agree that it’s becoming increasingly challenging to work together in any environment—be it business, politics, or even within our families—to accomplish worthy goals. Too many people believe they have all the answers and hold the exclusive title to the “right way.”

In his new book, High Road Leadership, John Maxwell talks about the traps that modern leaders have unwittingly fallen into: self-focus, using others for their own purposes, disrespecting others, and failing to encourage, develop, and serve the people they lead.

How we think internally always becomes visible externally. When a leader believes they are the smartest person in the room, they will dictate, demand, and sometimes even shame their subordinates, opponents, or anyone they perceive is hindering or outright blocking their pursuits.

Maxwell quoted J.B. Pritzker, governor of Illinois, in his commencement address to 2023 graduates at Northwestern University:

Somewhere along the way in the last few years, our society has come to believe that weaponized cruelty is part of some well-thought-out master plan. Cruelty is seen by some as an adroit cudgel to gain power. Empathy and kindness are considered weak. Many important people look at the vulnerable only as rungs on a ladder to the top.

I’m here to tell you that when someone’s path through this world is marked with acts of cruelty [or even selfish and self-centered ambition], they have failed the first test of an advanced society.

They never forced their animal brain to evolve past its first instincts. They never forged new mental pathways to overcome their own instinctual fears, and so their thinking and problem-solving will lack the imagination and creativity that the kindest people have in spades.

Over my many years in politics and business I have found one thing to be universally true: the kindest person in the room is often the smartest.

JB Pritzker as quoted by John Maxwell in High Road Leadership

The real self-trickery comes when we are usually kind and encouraging to our colleagues who are “on our side” and help us achieve our goals, but then become harsh, impatient, or aggressive toward those we perceive as standing in our way or not holding up their part of the bargain. I’ve been guilty of this many times in my career.

But the truth is simple: everyone has some value to offer. The true leader has open ears and a humble heart. Even when faced with opposing priorities and seemingly incongruent methodologies, they actively seek information that will make the project or goal more effective. They purposely create an environment where everyone is encouraged to participate and contribute. They never fall into taking sides or working against those who don’t share their perspective.

We see this lack of “high road leadership” so clearly today in American politics. In my opinion, we all want the same thing: jobs, a good economy, access for everyone to good schools, healthcare, and healthy food, peace, and stability. We simply disagree on the best mechanisms to get there. And then we disparage and attack one another in the fight to achieve our “one way.” It doesn’t seem to be working out too well for the American people.

If you’re a leader and you allow yourself to get drawn into taking sides and working against other groups of people, you’re limiting your leadership.

John Maxwell

So today, think about who you may be consciously or subconsciously working against because you disagree with them. Challenge your animal brain to see what might be right about their point of view. Engage in collaborative discussions with an open ear and mind to how the “other side” might actually improve your ideas and solutions.

And remember, it’s okay to have a little fun while you’re at it!

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Sherri Bartin Avatar

I’m Sherri, and as a Certified Life Coach

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