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Learning to REALLY Listen


Ben Jourdan

Recently, I took a course at the United States Air Force Academy on transformative leadership. After four weekends and more than 40 hours, I am better equipped to lead. I continue to think about one idea in particular, called the “already-always listening” concept.

Have you ever heard your phone ring, looked to see who it was, and discovered that it was your mother? You answer the phone asking yourself, “What is it this time?”  You may have already had an expectation that your mother was calling to tell you what job you should apply for, what girl you should date, or how you need to visit the family more. But, what if your mom was just calling to see how your day was going? If you enter into the conversation with the what-is-it-this-time mentality, are you being open to progress? Is anyone benefiting from this exchange?

The point of this anecdote is to illustrate the problem that leaders often have—they set preconceived expectations when interacting with others, which hinders their ability to serve.

During my time as a student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, I was co-president of a student-run club that promoted student and community unity though traditional events held on campus.  Unfortunately, I learned this already-always-listening concept the hard way while involved in this capacity. I decided early on that my club members would not be able to complete tasks the way that I could, and that I should simply do them myself to avoid mistakes.  This, of course, weakened the team’s faith in my leadership, and they avoided interaction with me. My preconceived expectations of others set me up for failure.  The Air Force course opened my eyes to different ways to recognize and combat this potential pitfall.

If you go into a conversation with your boss, employees, or loved ones with expectations of what they are going to say or how they will act (aka already-always-listening), you are setting yourself up to have an insincere interaction that weakens personal and professional relationships and your ability to lead. Consider identifying those relationships that you already-always listen and rid yourself of the mentality that you already know what they are going to say before they speak. When someone interacts with you, enter into that interaction with an open mind and a willingness to genuinely listen, for this is what makes authentic leaders.