The Most Undervalued Leadership Competency

December 3, 2018 Scott Miller


Listening is a vastly undervalued leadership competency. Most of us have spent the better part of our communication related professional development focused on how to become more persuasive speakers and writers, gaining influence with others by convincing them through powerful vocabularies, elegant delivery, and related verbal and written talents. But, the time and investment we’ve spent on listening is, by and large, nil.

In Dr. Covey’s seminal book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he dedicates one of the habits to listening, Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Think about that for a moment. A book that has sold over 30,000,000 copies and is translated in 47 languages dedicated 15% to simply learning to listen. This shows how important, vital, one of the most influential minds and teachers of our time values the skill of listening. For the record, none of The 7 Habits focus on speaking… a habit of highly effective people…..

Dr. Covey addresses four specific types of listening that we often default to that prevent us from becoming more empathic listeners:

  • Ignoring – truly not listening at all.
  • Pretending – employing automatic responses like “Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.”
  • Selective – Hearing only certain parts of the conversation that we relate to or personally value.
  • Attentive – Paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said (sounds good, but did you really understand their meaning)?

More valuable is Empathic Listening. Listening with the intent to understand. Suspending your thinking long enough to actually get inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it and try to sincerely see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm and begin to understand how they feel.

Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement, and sometimes may be appropriate for the situation. But people feed on sympathy and makes them further dependent…..on you.

The essence of Empathic Listening is not that you agree or disagree with someone, it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually. This form of listening is more than just reflecting or understanding. It requires you to listen not just to what they’re saying, but their body language as well (which research shows is about 60% of communication).

You listen for feeling, meaning, and behavior. You sense, intuit and feel.

Stephen said, “the deepest need of the human heart is to feel understood.” So slow down. It’s hard. But slow way down the next time (like in 2 mins) that you’re in a conversation where emotions are high. Listen for what the other person is really saying. 

Stretch yourself uncomfortably to look through another person’s frame of reference. That’s demonstrating empathic listening.

Subscribe to FranklinCovey On Leadership and receive weekly videos, tools, articles, and podcasts to help you become a better leader.


Don’t leave the success of your first-level leaders, and your organization, to chance—download our complimentary guide today and help them make the mental leap to leader. 


About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott J. Miller is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Chief Marketing Officer for FranklinCovey. Scott has been with the company for 20 years, and previously served as Vice President of Business Development and Marketing. His role as EVP and Chief Marketing Officer caps 12 years on the front line, working with thousands of client facilitators across many markets and countries.

Follow on Twitter Follow on Linkedin Visit Website More Content by Scott Miller
Previous Article

Don't lose your employees to their side hustle. Engage them and their entrepreneurial spirit for the benefi...

Next Article
Examine Entrenched Beliefs
Examine Entrenched Beliefs

Examine your own entrenched beliefs and see if they are worth keeping. They may be holding you back from gr...


Sign Up for Our Weekly Newsletter

First Name
Last Name
FranklinCovey does not share, sell, rent or trade personally identifiable information with third parties for promotional purposes. Privacy policy
Thank you!
Error - something went wrong!