3 Ways Listening Can Make You a Better Leader

About 25 percent of corporate leaders aren't making the most of their listening abilities, and according to author and business advisor Ram Charan, this lack of listening could be crashing careers, ruining relationships and derailing companies.

We all know communication is key to building relationships, solving problems, reducing conflict and, basically, interacting well with others.

With smartphones, tablets and 24/7 access to information, it is harder than ever to pay attention to something without a screen, let alone be an effective listener. But while everyone may be glued to their device of choice, listening is even more crucial to effective communication, and real knowledge. Learning not only happens by reading, researching or through today's favorite shiny object -- Big Data. True learning comes from sharing ideas through conversation, which involves being fully engaged in listening, in business and in life. Only then, can ideas evolve, leaders lead and teams flourish.

I recently joined the Maaco family. I am humbly following in the footsteps of founder Tony Martino, one of the greatest leaders of all time. No one knew his teams and operation better than Tony, and that was because he knew how to actively listen. My number one priority since taking the helm at Maaco has been to learn -- about my responsibilities, the company, my coworkers and often most important, the franchisees in the field, for they are the heart and soul of what we do every day. Only then can I take this great company to the next level. And only by listening will I succeed.

So I spend most of my time in the field, introducing myself to as many people as possible, hearing about their ideas and successes, listening to their concerns and grievances and responding thoughtfully to their questions. This isn't something I take lightly. I work on my listening skills every day.

I think Steve Jobs said it best, "It [whatever you choose to do] has got to be something that you're passionate about, because otherwise you won't have the perseverance to see it through." I am passionate about listening, because it has been proven time and again to be the most direct route to knowledge and ultimately, success.

So how do you learn to listen? For me, based on my experience and personal leadership style, I make sure my listening is as effective as possible by framing it around three things:

1. Knowing what I don't know: Almost 85 percent of what we know is learned through listening. Therefore, whenever I encounter a new situation, I strive to identify what I don't know about it and what I should know. Once I realize my knowledge gap, I find as many team members as possible who can help me develop the insight I need. And then I listen.

2. Actively listening and caring about the messenger: When I meet with someone, I purposely turn off any potential external distractions including email notifications and my phone. I also find my mental switch and turn off internal distractions, such as personal worries and things on my "to-do list." This includes eliminating any preconceived notions, biases and judgments that may change what I take from what the speaker is saying. These distractions could jeopardize my listening and result in no real interaction at all. So I tune out the noise to tune into the meeting I am having. I engage 100 percent, I pay attention, I concentrate on and empathize with, the person delivering the message. And I listen.

3. Engage in 360 degree listening: As Charan suggests in "The Discipline of Listening," I try to gain as much insight as possible from the people I speak with by engaging in every angle of the conversation. I purposely meet in a face-to-face setting with as many team members as possible in order to be able to fully understand every angle. (For my last project, that meant visiting and over 130 franchisee owners over a six-month period.) And I listen.

If you want to improve your leadership and overall ability to build effective relationships, gear your passion toward creating or improving your listening ability. I'm passionate about listening. It's what I've chosen to do each and every day. So, whether I'm chatting with team members, talking to our CEO or meeting an owner or technician in the field -- I listen. My reward is that I learn.