I recently attended a graduation ceremony at ETSU. Bill Haslam, the Governor, was the commencement speaker which was more than I was expecting in little Johnson City, Tennessee. During his short but direct speech, he talked about the students’ futures, of course, but also how they can become great leaders. He referred to the deceased Senator Howard Baker whom shared this knowledge with him: Good leaders are good listeners. The best leaders are also great listeners. He went on to explain that we can learn so much from others if we do more listening than talking.
This point has stuck with me. When I think about great teachers, I think of the ones who listen and really know their students. They know who they live with, what their strengths are, what they do outside of school, and what motivates them. In turn, their students are more willing to listen and learn from them. When I think about great political leaders, I think of those who listen to the public and say or hopefully do as the public has voiced! They make decisions based on big-picture visions. When I think of great humanitarians, it is also those who listen and thus, have empathy for others. They push for change because they listen to their stories and fight for injustice. When I think of great parents, I also think of leaders who are good listeners.
Being a good listener means you care about others as much as yourself. You want to make responsible decisions that will be accepted and embraced by others. When you’re a good leader in your family, you take your spouse’s and your children’s feelings and ideas into consideration. You listen not just because you care but because it brings your family together instead of pushing them away. When you listen, you learn. When you listen, it makes them more willing and open to listen to you.
We don’t all have to be leaders who run a company or manage others. In fact, we can’t all be. But being a good leader to our children, and not a dictator, now that is a hard job. Listening is much harder than talking, especially when we think we have so much to tell, teach, and lecture! Sometimes it seems so much easier to give them the answer, whether it’s on their homework or telling them the right thing to do on the playground. But in the long run, that doesn’t help them to grow and become leaders for themselves. Listening to our kids with a patient and open heart not only brings us closer to them but also may help us learn more about the people we love most.