6 Core Concepts of Servant Leadership – Listening

Pope Francis‏ @Pontifex 12/14/18 Tweet
This is the first step in order to grow on our journey of faith: listening. Before speaking, listen.

Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Effective listening is a skill that underpins all positive human relationships. [1] As such, you can see how listening is fundamental for communication and growing healthy relationships. Listening for business reasons is not all that Church leaders do. Pastoral leaders have a unique Servant Leadership niche. Pastoral leaders will hear stories from parishioners and others that need to be heard in confidence and listened to with effective, active listening.

Listening is a way of living out the “love your neighbor” aspect of faith…because it gives undivided external and internal attention to the speaker. It means that you are not thinking about your response while they are still speaking…what you are doing is seeking to understand what they are saying from their perspective. It’s really seeking to understand (a gift of the Holy Spirit and a sign of deep respect for the person speaking to you as imago Dei.)

Larry C. Spears of the The Larry C. Spears Center for Servant Leadership (www.spearscenter.org) writes in Servant Leadership in Action that Listening is one of the 10 most important characteristics of a Servant Leader.[2]

Why is listening so important?

  1. Listening lets the other person know that you respect them. It gives them dignity.
  2. It tells them that they are valuable to the vision, and to you.
  3. Listening tells them that you care about them personally, thus building a relationship with them.

Although it may take time and patience to listen, it fosters loyalty, and I might say love, for the parish and the Church’s vision. [3]
Listening trumps talking every time. It is related to humility. The humble leader listens more than he/she talks.

Humility is a prerequisite to listening well. Humble leaders know they don’t know it all and so seek to learn from others through listening. In contrast, those leaders who think they know the whole story or are arrogant and have a very high opinion of themselves tend to talk too much or over others. This can lead people to distrust the leader.

One of the great “Listening” stories of the gospels is the Mary and Martha story. In this story Jesus tells us that listening is a most important activity.

Luke 10: 38-42
The Lord and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!” The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.” [4]

A woman in 1st century C.E., should have been all about hospitality, as Martha was. Mary recognized the gift of Jesus in her home so chose to listen at the feet of Jesus. She instinctively knew that one of the most important characteristics of a servant leader is listening. Martha, and all of us, could learn much from Mary’s example.

As a pastoral leader, how well do you listen? Are you attentive, focused on the person, caring what the other has to say? Do you love each speaker enough to put aside what you may be doing to listen to their story? Do you listen from the heart and let the Holy Spirit guide your response?

Listening to someone is a great gift in the world that is full of noise and argument. The next time someone approaches you in need of being heard, listen well. It may be all they needed to feel more whole.

[1] https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/listening-skills.html
[2] Larry C Spears, The Journal of Virtues & Leadership, Vol. 1 Iss. 1, 2010, 25-30. School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University https://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/jvl/vol1_iss1/Spears_Final.pdf
[3] Cheryl Bachelder, Dare to Serve https://cherylbachelder.com
[4] Luke 10: 38-42, Contemporary English Version


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