Viewpoint: Listening to Others Establishes Trust and Effective Followership

Brian Shapiro


December 14, 2022

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Shapiro: "Perhaps the most essential tool for establishing trust (and competence) is listening."

If one thing is clear coming out of the COVID19 pandemic, it is that the unknown and unpredictable have become even more influential than the known and predictable.

In reality, the unknown and unpredictable have always been there, but now they have assumed more prominence. For this reason, it is critical that airport leaders cultivate trust in their workforces at deeper levels than in the past; you cannot have effective leadership without effective followership.

Research demonstrates that effective followership is based on a competence that is rooted in trust. In the book, Building The High-Trust Organization, authored by Pamela S. Shockley-Zalabak, Sherwyn P. Morreale, and Michael Hackman, it says: “High-quality stakeholders have choices with quality. They choose organizations in which they trust the competence of leaders and their ability to frame a vision and set goals and strategies in pursuit of that vision. Additionally, employees are more innovative when they believe their ideas will meet with a fair, competent evaluation. Both employees and external stakeholders exhibit more loyalty to organizations with track records for competence.”

Perhaps the most essential tool for establishing trust (and competence) is listening. You need to learn to be a more effective listener than you are now. I will review some reasons why this is so, as well as list some big benefits associated with being an effective listener.

According to research by Elizabeth S. Parks, “listening and empathy are widely considered marks of competent communicators and leaders.” Unfortunately, listening is a skill most people have not been taught. Rather, it’s assumed that if your ears function well, then you know how to listen. That’s like saying being a passenger on a plane is the same as flying the plane. It’s simply not true.

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A new course on listening for airport organizations is coming soon, run by Brian Shapiro in partnership with Modalis.

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Listening Requires Practice

Listening, like any other crucial skill, requires practice and effort. But if you don’t know what to practice and how to practice it, you’ll make no progress. Therefore, it’s important to begin to learn how to listen effectively, as the benefits are many.

How many times have your requests or priorities been misunderstood? Once, twice, several times? Even one time can be too many in the pressure-packed dynamic airport ecosystem. As leaders, people look up to you, look to you for answers, reassurance, and confidence, especially in challenging times.

One benefit of effective listening it that it allows you to know if your critical information has been received correctly and if you are being understood as you need to be. That is because effective listening allows you to know how others are receiving your information as well as what questions to ask to ensure you are being understood.

Demonstrating Strong Leadership In Crisis Times

An inescapable challenge leaders face is how to demonstrate strong leadership in times when you don’t have all the information at hand. One fallback to this challenge is to double down on confidence in the face of whatever headwinds are blowing. While this may lend an initial positive impression on those you are leading, it also risks hints of dishonestly that may ultimately undermine your leadership credibility.

Effective listening empowers you to create an environment in which people feel motivated to provide you with the accurate information you need to be an even more effective leader. This is because it builds trust among those you lead; because when people feel listened to they feel valued, and when they feel valued they are far more willing to share information—even upsetting information—with you.

Quality information generally leads to quality decisions, and getting quality information requires an ability to listen to the people who are most engaged and/or impacted by that decision. Now that’s competence.

While listening is at the core of competent leadership, it’s a skill rarely taught. Hopefully, you now recognize how, through no fault of your own, it is an underdeveloped essential skill. The assumption that because you hear what someone is saying means you are actually listening to them has to stop.

Fortunately, with quality instruction, you can become a better listener and to that end, I have partnered with Modalis Infrastructure Partners to deliver an Airport Communications Masterclass to help you improve your listening skills. As you’ll discover, the benefits of doing so will make this a worthwhile investment in your own personal and professional development.

[Brian Shapiro is President of Shapiro Communications and Instructor/Affiliated Faculty at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and Organizational Dynamics programs.]

[Lead image: Courtesy of Pexel]