The Art of Listening

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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At the end of a recent business trip, I was exhausted. I decided to go on an earlier flight and had to take whatever seat was left. When I boarded and found my assigned seat, I discovered my seat-mates were a young woman in the aisle seat with an already very active five-year-old boy occupying the middle seat. I began to regret going on the earlier flight.

I took my seat and immediately became irritated with my fidgeting five-year-old companion. The thought entered my mind to ask a passing stewardess to “please find me another seat.” After all, I was a Platinum frequent flyer—and a million-mile traveler! I deserved better than this!

But I decided not to ask. Instead, as we sat at the gate, I closed my eyes and tried to get some rest until the mother began making calls to various people on her cell phone. I couldn’t help but overhear. She spoke in Spanish, but I was able to pick up enough to understand some of what she was saying. Two things became obvious—she was excited about a recent event, and she was a Christian.

\As she ended her calls, I opened my eyes and turned to her, “You sound very excited.”

We began to talk, and I quickly learned that she had just graduated from college with a teaching degree. She and her son were traveling to see her parents in Guatemala. Listening to her, I was struck by how incredibly excited and blessed she felt at earning a teaching degree. Her humility and earnest joy overshadowed all of my exhaustion and stress.

I felt terribly ashamed. A few minutes earlier I had considered asking a stewardess—in front of this wonderful Christian—to please move me to another seat. I wondered if I had done so, how would my attitude have affected this person I now spoke to? Would I have robbed her of the excitement that I now witnessed? By God’s grace, instead of a discouragement, the situation turned into a blessing for both of us.

It was a good reminder for me: Leadership isn’t always about making the right critical decisions and mapping out long-term strategies. Often the little things create the gravity needed to pull a team together. The art of listening is one of those little things that generate leadership gravity, the force needed to pull a team together as a unit.

As leaders, it is easy to listen when everything is going great and our hearts are filled with peace. The real test is when everything is going wrong and the last thing we want to do is be nice to someone.

Jesus must have been a fabulous listener. He drew people together like a magnet. I’m sure there were times when he did not feel like listening—but he listened anyway. The disciples fussed amongst themselves. The Pharisees grumbled against him and caused trouble. But Jesus focused on the important things. He listened, he spoke, and people followed.

If we hope to have leadership gravity, the kind that draws a team together, we must learn to listen. Let us pray that God will help us look beyond our times of exhaustion, see the opportunities before us, and help unify those who look to us for leadership.