Leadership means listening. Generally, it means listening actively to those in our sphere of influence, including the pastor, staff colleagues within other ministries, volunteers and staff within our domain of leadership, parents, children and even those persons within the larger community whom we are trying to reach with the gospel. This does not imply a wavering, unstable posture of testing ever-shifting wind currents of opinion. It does mean that we should become missiologists in our contexts who embrace the need to understand the culture in which God has placed us.
More specifically, leadership means listening carefully and attentively to the specific person(s) with whom we are conversing at any given point of time. Leaders sometimes famously attempt to juggle dozens of internal agendas at any one point in time, all in the name of being “one minute managers” and “multi-tasking gurus.” The result can be a transparent shallowness in relationships. Our conversation partners see right through the inevitable glazed over politeness. Yet when we actively listen, expressing empathy and reflecting back to them our understanding of their communication, a deeper sense of respect is earned because they begin to realize that they really do matter to us, that we really do care about them as persons.
Last Sunday I had the opportunity to make three significant contacts, two of which were with people I have known for several years and one of which was with a person I had just met. I believe that each person walked away feeling cared for, prayed for and understood just a little bit better. Why is that? It was not because of any great words of wisdom from me, I am sure. It was because I have learned that leadership means listening. So listen I did to the stories of struggle through which they are currently walking.
Obviously we must use our time wisely. We cannot spend long periods of time listening to each person we meet as we walk down the hallway. Sometimes we must make appointments for conversations at a later time, especially if it is a member of the opposite gender and circumstances call for an extra measure of accountability by having a third person present. Or we might simply refer them to someone who is able to help them more effectively. Yet, how hard is it to pause for five minutes in a public area of the church and intently listen to the heart of someone who looks up to us as leaders? To that person who is hurting, it can make all the difference in the encouragement that God gives them through your gracious listening.