Listening Leaders

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.– Robert McCloskey

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”

– Karl Augustus Menninger

There is power in listening: Visionary leaders know this. When a leader listens, two important things occur: (1) the leader, with the Spirit’s leading, can craft a shared vision that reinforces focus on the big picture, and (2) the listening leader plays a significant role in decreasing the fear that comes with change.

When leaders discern a shared vision for what the church can become, the vision then serves “the function of providing the psychological safety that permit[s] the organization to move forward.” (Edgar Shein, Organizational Culture and Leadership) I think we can all agree that visionary leadership is vitally important. But we often lose sight of the importance of a shared vision – a vision shared by the entire organization. This type of vision comes from the bottom up rather than from the top down. A shared vision is a more powerful instrument for change. More people are invested in its success.

A shared vision is a picture of what life can be like in the future. A shared vision is clear and compelling. It creates an image of what is attainable, but not easily attainable. It is not filled with abstract language and unrealistic projections; rather a strong, shared vision creates a clear picture of what a church or conference can become. It is something to which the members can relate.

When a leader listens to the people, a shared vision with personal implications is constructed. These personal implications are critical to success. The members of the organization (church or conference) realize they can live into this new future (the new change) without losing their identity. This reduces the level of fear, empowering members to move into a new and challenging future.

Over the past two months, Bishop James King traveled across South Georgia leading worship rallies. More importantly, Bishop King spent the day in each district listening to pastors in personal interviews. Can you imagine the time demands on a new bishop? Conference and denominational meetings, getting to know an entire conference, moving into a new home, and attempting to spend time with family. With all of those demands on his time, Bishop King made it a priority to visit all nine districts in October and November – spending the entire day listening to a variety of United Methodists.

Actions speak louder than words. Are you curious about the new bishop of South Georgia? I can assure you he is a leader who listens.

“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”

– Sue Patton Thoele

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