listening skills leadership

Recently, I had a meeting with my team at Funds2Orgs. You might know that it’s a social enterprise in the philanthropic sector. We help nonprofits, churches, schools and others raise money for their organizations by collecting gently worn, used and new shoes.

We moved offices earlier this year, not only to expand our physical space, but also because in the process we wanted to make sure the walls that divided our teams were eliminated. In other words, every time anyone walks through our offices, we want people to feel the energy of a single environment.

If you know me you know my environment is important to me.

This particular meeting was a performance meeting with the sales team. One of the things we pride ourselves on is our customer service and support. While everyone is moving to technology, which we use, we believe we always have to maintain the human touch. This is especially true with our partners.

For our sales team, it means they have to spend time on telephones. In fact, they have to spend a large part of their day on the phones. Our fundraising partners have to know that we’re constantly there for them, even if they are not available when we call.

So, I convened the sales team and I asked them how they were spending their time. I asked them a few questions, but over the course of an hour, I allowed them to speak.

I listened.

You see, one of the most important leadership and management attributes that many people miss is the skill of listening. If you ask a few questions and then wait silently for the answers, you’ll get a lot of information.

I listed to the team about how much time they thought they were spending on the telephones. I also listened to ideas about what they would need to do better. It’s important for me to always have my team be part of the process. I am a firm believer of servant leadership.

The following day, I took a look at the telephone reports I asked my operations manager to run. Here’s what I learned:

  • Some peoples’ perceptions of how much time they spend on a certain task were off. Some team members spent more time than they thought on the phone, and a few others less.
  • Technology helped support my need for information as the manager and leader because I had the numbers in black and white.
  • With the qualitative (especially by listening) and quantitative information I received, I was able to make informed decisions.
  • I then took this to my senior team and again listened to them as we developed ways to improve.

We can always be better. We can be excellent, but because there’s no real perfection there’s always room for improvement, even when we think it’s perfect.

If you go through our offices, it’s very different than our former space. There’s a reason for that. I’m always looking to improve and the one thing I keep telling my team is that we are now on the 2.0 version. And when we’re done with that, we’re going to move onto 3.0, etc.

One of the key reasons we’ve been able to grow is because I know about the importance of listening. As a manager, this is probably one of the most important skills you can have. So, the next time you’re sitting around a conference table with your team, step back. Ask a few questions and then hit the pause button on speaking further. Allow your team to talk and take in the information so you can then make better improvement decisions.


Wayne is the author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: How to DOMINATE YOUR Fundraising to Create YOUR Success” (Free Digital Download)

© 2016 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.