Your thoughts matter … unless I’m busy: The impact of active listening on leadership and relationships

Peter Drucker said, “Listening (the first competence of leadership) is not a skill, it is a discipline.” In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in daily tasks, digital distractions, and constant connectivity. Active listening is a foundational need for all successful relationships, and as leaders it is imperative to recognize the impact it has on our relationships with our team.

Active listening is more than just hearing words; it’s about fully engaging with the speaker, demonstrating genuine interest, and making them feel valued. When we fail to practice active listening, we undermine our relationships and leadership effectiveness, sending a clear message that other priorities take precedence. When we hold a leadership role, we impact the lives of others in deep and meaningful ways. Owning how we show up and impact those we lead is a huge responsibility. Truly valuing, engaging with, and listening to those we lead/serve should be a top priority. “Saying” our team members are a top priority is the easy part, aligning our actions with the words is where the challenge can surface amidst so many competing priorities. The words we say mean little if our actions don’t back them up.

Active listening involves a conscious effort to not only hear the words being spoken but also to understand the emotions and intentions behind them. It requires undivided attention, thoughtful responses, and an empathetic approach. If during interactions we are merely hearing without engagement, often accompanied by distractions such as checking emails, texting, or thinking about other priorities, those we are speaking with can clearly see and feel that something else, or many other things, are more important in that moment.

A leader I worked for years ago consistently during conversations with team members, glanced at their phone, gave intermittent nods while clearly not focused, and commented in a way that made it clear they were not fully listening. The words “Your thoughts and needs matter” became hollow when actions said otherwise. This lack of genuine engagement eroded team trust, negatively impacted open communication, and impacted the team’s performance and cohesion.

Effective leadership hinges on building trust and fostering an environment where team members feel heard and appreciated. Leaders who practice active listening show their team that they value their input and are committed to understanding their perspectives. This builds a foundation of mutual respect and trust, essential for a productive and positive work environment.

Whether it be in one-on-one communication or in team settings the actions displayed develop the “brand” of the leader. The leader I mentioned earlier displayed the same type of behaviors in team meetings regularly—checking their phone, lack of eye contact, delayed or irrelevant responses, and general lack of being actively present in the moment. It became apparent to the team that the leader was not fully engaged, and was more concerned with their own priorities than with the team’s input.

In this type of team culture employees may feel undervalued and demotivated. In contrast, a manager who listens attentively, maintains eye contact, and responds thoughtfully reinforces a culture of respect and cooperation, laying the foundation for a strong, motivated team.

Employees are more likely to share ideas, voice concerns, and engage in problem-solving, knowing that their contributions are valued. This not only enhances team dynamics but also drives innovation and efficiency. Leaders who are consistently distracted during time allotted for individual or team meetings convey a lack of respect and interest, which can lead to disengagement, high turnover rates, and a toxic work culture.

Active listening is a powerful tool that can transform both leadership and personal relationships. It requires intentional actions that demonstrate genuine interest and respect. When we actively listen, we build trust, foster collaboration, and deepen our connections.

In a world filled with distractions, making a conscious effort to actively listen is a testament to the value we place on our relationships. It is a clear, actionable way to show that we truly mean it when we say, “Your thoughts matter.” So, next time you find yourself in a conversation, remember actions speak louder than words, and as Peter Drucker noted, it’s all about discipline.

“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” – Andy Stanley

Linda Lafortune

Linda Lafortune

Linda is the Director of Learning & Client Support at CUInsight.  She has an extensive background in the credit union industry having worked in both large and small credit unions, in ... Web: Details