Three leadership skills to live and breathe

Leadership can be a tough job and in today’s world there is a lot that leaders are expected to do. So in this post I want to highlight the leadership trio: 3 things that I believe would make leaders lives a lot easier if they did them a little more. They are: listening to understand, setting clear expectations and giving effective feedback.

1. Listening to Understand.

As leaders we are expected to solve problems and make decisions. So when we talk to others we are often listening through that lens. We call this ‘listening to respond’ — we are already formulating ‘what next’ in our own heads while we are conversing. Being able to solve problems is an important part of effective leadership and listening to respond has its place, but so does listening to understand.

Listening to understand means parking your ideas, opinions and assumptions to focusing on what someone else is trying to say and what matters to them. If you are good at listening to understand you generally collaborate better, get buy-in and influence others more, and navigate difficult conversations much more easily.

Start noticing what you are doing when you are ‘listening’ to someone else.  Are you trying to understand them, or direct them? Are you thinking about what they mean by what they said or what you should say in response? Make sure you’re listening to understand when it matters most.

2. Setting Expectations Clearly.

Often the leaders we work with are comfortable setting expectations about tasks; however, they spend much less time (sometimes none) setting expectations on behaviour and attitude.  We need to do both.  Setting expectations up front with someone will not make them perform, but it makes it easier for them to perform and it makes it much easier to tackle it when they don’t.

This might mean having team ground rules, or just an upfront and honest conversation with someone about what behaviour you expect, value and appreciate. This way, they have a better chance of meeting your expectations.  It may not be as easy as it sounds; even I have fallen foul of assuming someone was clear on the behaviours I expected and then being disappointed.  But each time someone disappoints you, it’s an opportunity to re-clarify the expectations you have and how they can meet them next time around.

3. Giving Effective Feedback.

More than just saying “good job”, effective feedback enhances performance. Think of feedback as a way of keeping someone on track.  If you don’t pay attention and course correct, you could find that person gets way off track.   A good rule of thumb is a weekly check in that highlights successes and strengths and provides guidance on mistakes, missteps and development areas.

The simplest way to do it? Always be balanced and point out the good (reinforcing) and the not so good (developmental). For example: “here’s what I liked about that…. here is what I didn’t like and what I’d suggest doing differently….”.  (NB. You can play with the language to suit your leadership style).

Ensuring that you give those nudges ensures that someone knows how they are doing, feels recognized for what they do well and knows how they can do even better.  It can also tackle issues while they are still small before they become big performance conversations.


Overall these 3 things take a lot of the more ‘complicated’ and ‘difficult’ bits of leadership off the table.  Performance conversations go away because expectations are clear and feedback is given. We avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings because expectations are clear and we listen to understand.  We know how motivated someone is and whether they can perform because we have listened to understand. So dialling these things up can really make a difference to how easy your life is as a leader. And really, who doesn’t like things to be easy?

If you want more information on the trio or building your leadership skills generally, have a look at our online training programs.  In just an hour a week we can help you build your leadership skills and make your life a little easier.