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In 2023 Leaders Will Become Expert Listeners

Insights Leadership Development
7 minutes read
By Juliëtte van Rees, Marketing Assistant Benelux & Nordics, Top Employers Institute


In 2023, leaders will need to invest in developing their capabilities to listen and care continuously for their organisation’s heartbeat. In a world where communication can happen at almost any time of day from anywhere in the world it’s important that leaders learn to consciously listen not only to the external needs of the organisations but also to the internal needs, in other words, they need to tune into the emotional heartbeat of the organisation.

As senior managers prioritise listening, they must listen carefully to the signals of a changing environment, to be able to plan - strategically and flexibly around areas like the organisation’s talent needs and the focus of the leadership culture. On the other hand, organisations need to implement policies dedicated to continuous and intentional employee listening.

To connect leaders closely with their teams in this way prepares the internal environment to be able to react successfully to challenges. It paves the way to the emotional engagement of employees needed to develop business strategies in times of change.

The notable percentage of 82% of employees actively participating in engagement action plans within the Dutch Top Employers aligns with the extensive research emphasizing the importance of employee engagement. This high level of involvement indicates a strong commitment to creating an inclusive work environment, which has been found to positively impact various aspects of organisational success. Engaged employees are more likely to demonstrate higher productivity, job satisfaction, and commitment to organisational goals. In short, “Leadership that listens to the heartbeat” of the organisation is a major area of interest in 2023 and in our World of Work Trends Report 2023, but in this article, we dive deeper into how this trend can be made actionable by leaders in big and small organisations.

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Key reasons why listening to the heartbeat is important for leaders in organisations in 2023.

An organisation’s ability to listen depends on an effective employee listening strategy, in addition to the skills of its individual leaders. The need for companies to develop this ability across their organisation is more essential than ever before as the needs of employees become more complex. There is no longer a one size fits all solution and as such organisations will see benefits from prioritising an effective listening strategy.

These benefits may include:

Improved trust and respect across the organisation.

  • It is observable across many different sized organisations that when leaders take the time to listen to their employees, it shows that they value their opinions and are willing to consider their ideas. It may seem like a small gesture, but it can go a long way in building trust and respect between leaders and their teams. The trust that is built for these teams will help for a long-term commitment to communication from leadership and other employees.

Increased employee engagement.

  • When employees feel that their voices are being heard, they are more likely to be engaged and invested in their work. Over many years it has been shown that it can lead to higher levels of productivity and job satisfaction. Employees that feel engaged with their organisation will also be more likely to see a development track for themselves within the organisation, allowing organisations to nurture talented employees throughout their career.

Enhanced decision making.

  • Organisations that listen to the perspectives of others, will see that their leaders are more able to gain a more comprehensive understanding of a situation leading them to make better-informed decisions. Leaders that listen to their employees while planning strategically and flexibly can lead to better outcomes for the organisation and employees.

Promotes creativity and innovative thinking.

  • Leaders that listen can cultivate an environment that encourages employees to share their ideas and opinions, allowing leaders can create a culture of innovation within their organisation. This can lead to new and creative solutions to business challenges. While this is true of listening in general it is particularly noticeable in leaders that listen to the heartbeat of an organisation as they are not just tuned into the traditional communication needed for business, but they are instead looking beyond to form connections that foster a unique and modern approach to creativity that isn’t limited to formalised brainstorm sessions. Their listening creates a more flexible environment that encourages a new way of understanding and communication.

Enhanced Diversity and Inclusion Efforts.

  • An effective employee listening strategy plays a crucial role in promoting diversity and inclusion within organisations. By actively seeking out and listening to diverse voices, organisations gain a deeper understanding of the unique experiences and perspectives of their employees. This understanding allows for more inclusive decision-making, policies, and practices that value and celebrate diversity.

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What can leaders do to become better listeners?

The rhetoric around leaders listening to the needs of the organisation and employees is not new. While trends have continually shown the benefits of this communication many have failed to give a cheat sheet for how leaders can become better leaders. That may be due to many of the traditional beliefs around listening leaders ignoring the emotional aspects that make listening key for every person at an organisation, no matter how direct their contribution is to overall strategy.

In 2023, organisations should recognize the areas of employee engagement that require improvement. From the survey of our Dutch Top Employers was a relatively low percentages in some of these key elements with regards to listening leadership. For example the integrated approach to listening techniques stands at 50%. This suggests that there may be gaps in utilizing various listening methods and tools effectively within the organisation.

There is an emotional tie that links listening to effectiveness. In essence a listening organisation will create a closer connection with employees. And this will foster the engagement needed to act quickly and effectively on the challenges that the organisation will undoubtedly face.

Some of the ways that organisations can foster a new kind of listening leader:

  • Develop and train leaders in a manner that that reflects the importance of creating an emotional listening strategy. It may not be obvious why there is a need to listen in an emotional manner at work but by having frank discussions with leaders it can be shown how a listening organisation will create a closer connection with employees. Allowing them to understand the need to foster the engagement needed to act quickly and effectively on the challenges that the organisation will undoubtedly face.
  • To effectively engage leaders in this new way of thinking it is important to show how listening links both the leadership model and development programmes to the overall business strategy. Showcasing this link ensures the organisation has the right leadership capabilities both now and in the future.
  • Leaders need to be open to feedback and regular assessment of how they are listening to their organisation. It is important, of course, for leaders to develop listening skills but to maintain this development they need to be open to receiving feedback on how they are doing, so that they can improve or change where necessary. Organisations encourage leaders to receive feedback from their teams on their performance as a leader and provide resources and guidance to help leaders to build confidence and enable them to grow as a leader.

Cultivating a culture that allows people to be effective leaders needs these more complex strategical steps. Pairing these high-level behaviours with more simple listening tips is key to improving the overall listening abilities of leaders. Some of these tips include:

  • Being present.
  • Asking open-ended follow up questions.
  • Being curious and empathetic.
  • Reflecting on what you’ve heard.
  • Following up no matter the conclusion.

While this advice may seem more simplistic than some of the other considerations, we’ve brought up in this article it is not be overlooked. Creating a listening leader isn’t an instant fix all but rather it is a long-term commitment that needs to be made by organisations.

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Final Thoughts

In 2023, it is essential for leaders to recognize the significance of active listening in organisations. While traditional beliefs may have overlooked the emotional aspects of listening, it is crucial to understand that effective listening is key for every individual. By implementing a robust employee listening strategy and actively seeking employee input, leaders can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment. By prioritizing employee engagement and valuing the contributions of every individual, leaders can position their organizations for long-term prosperity and success in the dynamic landscape of 2023 and beyond.

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