Ikhlaq Hussain: 'Active listening' will help you to be a better leader

Great managers listen in such a way that others love to speak to them

Ikhlaq Hussain
Ikhlaq Hussain

Our sector has long ignored the universally known leadership skill "active listening". How many job advertisements for fundraising directors or managers do you see that list "great listener" among the qualities desired in a prospective candidate? We always think of a leader as somebody who speaks in such a way that others love to listen to them, but we have never thought of our leaders as people who listen in such a way that others love to speak to them.

So how can active listening help you become more effective fundraising leader?

First, listening leaders will be able to retain fundraisers for longer. Many organisations have a poor record of retaining fundraisers. One key reason for this I come across when I speak to fundraisers (online and offline) is that they get frustrated because their leaders don’t listen to them and value their ideas, skills and experience. This frustration reduces the fundraiser’s sense of worth and naturally causes resentment, so they leave and look for another charity – one where the bosses listen to them. 

Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, authors of The One Minute Manager, say the best way to create employee engagement is to allocate time to listen to them – and, of course, that good engagement will keep employees in the organisation for longer.

Second, listening leaders will get better fundraising results. Active listening will help fundraising leaders better understand their team members' needs. This will put them in a better position to offer the right support, guidance, motivation and feedback to help the team to succeed.

Listening leaders also help to facilitate innovation in fundraising. Nelson Mandela was once asked how he learned to be an inspiring leader. He said his father was a tribal chief whom he would accompany to local meetings. He noticed that his dad would often speak last. He learnt from this that effective leaders listen to others first and ask questions for clarity before they take their turn to speak.

Recent research by the employment consultancy Engage for Success found that 64 per cent of people at work said they have more to give to their organisations but no one was asking them, which suggests that it is a leader's job to create the culture of listening and explore untapped potential.

Finally, listening leaders will learn something from everyone. As Mao Tse-tung said: "We should never pretend to know what we don't know, we should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from people below, and we should listen carefully to the views of the cadres at the lowest levels. Be a pupil before you become a teacher; learn from the cadres at the lower levels before you issue orders." 

Fundraising leaders need to stop thinking they know everything. Start listening to others and start learning from everyone in your teams.

Ikhlaq Hussain is head of major gifts at Orphans In Need

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