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Listening and communication are perhaps two of the most timeless leadership skills yet they are also the ones that are changing the most! In my new book, The Future Leader, I talk about these two as the skill of the Translator.

The word “translation” comes from the Latin word translation which means “carrying across” or “bringing across.” I like to think of a bridge that connects things or people together. Translators have been around for thousands of years and are responsible for much of what we know about our collective history. They make sure everyone is on the same page and can understand each other. Without a translator, productivity is halted, no one can collaborate, and ideas aren’t pursued or developed.

Leaders of the future must be translators which means that they are great listeners and communicators.

Unfortunately, this is a skill that leaders today are surprisingly doing a terrible job of practicing. I partnered with Linkedin to survey nearly 14,000 employees around the world and only 8% of employees reported that their mid and senior-level leaders are practicing this skill “very well.” Clearly there is lots of room for improvement!

Even though listening and communication have always been crucial, their importance is going to increase 10-fold over the coming years. The world we live in now is becoming increasingly connected and distributed. Social causes are becoming business imperatives and the amount of noise and distractions that all of us are dealing with is immense. Just think of all of the channels we can communicate on and listen to, and it’s growing. These channels are also causing us to change our behaviors, grown men are now using taking selfies with each other and using emojis to communicate with one another!

140 of the world’s top CEOs identified a specific set of 9 skills & mindsets that are crucial for leaders to master. Learn what they are and hear directly from these leaders by downloading the PDF below.

Why Listening Matters
Listening and hearing are two different things. Often, we get caught up in only hearing something without actually listening or internalizing what is being said. Hearing doesn’t require effort, it’s the unconscious act of letting sound enter your ear. Listening, on the other hand, is a purposeful and conscientious effort.

Think of a time when you were interacting with someone and you could tell that although they heard what you were saying, they really weren’t listening, how did that make you feel? The consequences of employees feeling like their leaders aren’t listening to them are disastrous. It kills morale, engagement, passion, and excitement of any kind. It turns employees into cogs.

With the many new communication channels we now have access to, listening for future leaders means having many ears to many different grounds. The world is becoming more connected and distributed, and that will only continue to grow. It’s going to be more important than ever for leaders to understand their employees and customers, and much of that comes from listening.

Michael Kneeland, president and CEO of United Rentals, told me this: “I’ve always gone through the world where it’s a reverse pyramid. I’m so far from my customers that the most impactful I think that I can be doing is listening, and understanding what’s happening on the front line.”

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman created six levels of listening. To become a better listener, put these steps into practice:

  • Level 1: You create a safe environment where pretty much anything can be discussed.
  • Level 2: You put away distractions like phones and laptops and you make appropriate eye-contact with the other person.
  • Level 3: You try to understand the main focus of what the other person is saying.
  • Level 4: You pay attention to non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice.
  • Level 5: You understand the emotions and feelings of the other person and you acknowledge them.
  • Level 6:You ask good questions that are designed to let the other person see a new perspective or challenge an assumption that they might have.

Why Communication Matters
Communication is about understanding the different channels to use and how to get your message across regardless of the channel you are using. Communication is one of the greatest tools in the leader’s utility belt. It’s what allows you to inspire, connect with, and align those around you. Effective communication also helps make sure that strategies get executed effectively.

In the next decade and beyond, there will be even more noise and ways to communicate. To effectively share messages, leaders will have to know how to cut through the noise and use the right channels. If you don’t prepare now to become a great future communicator, you messages will fall flat or get lost in the noise.

Tsuyoshi ‘Nick’ Nagano is the president and CEO of Tokio Marine, a multi-national insurance holding company which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. Nick clearly articulated the importance of communication.

“As a CEO I may spend 70% of my time communicating with the people in my company. This may seem like a lot but when you consider that I manage a global workforce of 32,000 this can mean they only listen to me speak live or virtually for 20 minutes per year on average. Thus, these 20 minutes really need to count otherwise where is my impact as CEO?”

To be better at communicating with others, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the best channels to use to get information across?
  • How does the way you communicate make those around you feel?
  • Are you communicating in a clear, open, passionate, and humble way?
  • Are you being human?
  • If someone communicated to you in the same way you are communicating to others, what impact would it have

Together, listening and communication form the skill of the Translator and even though these things are timeless they are changing dramatically. Future leaders won’t be able to survive without these crucial skills. Developing listening and communication skills now can prepare future leaders for the changes that will come in the next decade.

If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:
1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.

2. Grab a copy of The Future Leader and learn all the skills and mindsets that future leaders must possess to be successful. It has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith.

3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur than my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did. You can subscribe to that here.