Leading by Listening

Back in the day I was a competitive, wide-ranging, young trivia nerd. (Now I’m a competitive, wide-ranging, old trivia nerd.) So I became a contestant on a local TV quiz show for area high school teams based on the then popular TV show College Bowl. Creatively enough, our competition was called High School Bowl.

Today we’d recognize this as a forerunner of Jeopardy. But College Bowl had a couple of key differences. Rather than having individual contestants, it pitted two four-person teams against each other. It also focused on academic subjects like history, art, literature, science and math and paid little attention to pop culture and sports. As team captain for our school, I must humbly say that we totally crushed every opposing team. We didn’t celebrate with chest bumps or by jumping in the stands. We went out for ice cream.

High School Bowl featured two types of questions. Any of the eight contestants was eligible to answer Toss-Up Questions as quickly as possible. We even had buzzers. How cool was that?!?

When a contestant answered a Toss-Up Question correctly, his or her team then got the sole opportunity to answer a Bonus Question. This time team members were allowed to confer with each other briefly before the team captain gave the answer on behalf of the team–my one and only responsibility as captain.

Usually this wasn’t a problem. In our first match, however, we were asked a Bonus Question and the team didn’t agree. So I gave the response I thought was right. I wasn’t.

Despite losing those points, we won the match and advanced to the next round. Afterward our coach told me, “As captain, your job is not to give the answer you think is correct. Your job is to listen to the other team members and decide who is most convinced his answer is right. Give that person’s response.”

His advice worked like a charm. Sure enough, next match another Bonus Question was asked that we couldn’t agree on. This time, instead of trying to figure out the answer myself, I listened to the team. I could see who was most certain in the discussion, and I gave his answer. It was correct.

That was an important lesson for me in leadership by listening. I suspect my team here at IVP would say it’s a lesson I still need to learn, and no doubt there’s truth in that. Here are some things, then, I’m still trying to learn:

1. Listen to others. Our bias should be to hear out what others have to say.

2. Know whom to listen to. Not all counsel is created equal. The point is not to listen to the loudest or most self-assured person, as was the case in the quiz show. Nor is it to listen most closely to your friends, the people you like or those you want to impress. The point in most settings is to be discerning about who has knowledge, logic, character or experience to offer. Listen especially closely to them.

3. Consensus can be valuable but has its limitations. When time allows, discussion with an aim toward consensus can be a good way to ensure broad buy-in for a decision or course of action. When time is limited, however, consensus can get in the way of good decisions. In an emergency, the designated leader has to make the call, and make it quickly.

So here’s a Toss-Up. Who is the only person to be both President of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? Buzz.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

8 thoughts on “Leading by Listening”

  1. Terry

    You’re absolutely right. Doing it well is one of the most difficult things I do–any of us do.


  2. Have you read The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, by Steven Sample (USC President)? More good advice along these lines in the “Artful Listening” chapter. The entire book is worthwhile. Other chapters include Thinking Gray, and Free; Decisions, Decisions; and Know Which Hill You’re Willing To Die On.

  3. Thanks for the tip. I’ve heard others recommend this book. I’ll be sure to put it on my list.


  4. I was just writing in my web-journals the other day about how listening is the basis of communication. I think it’s an under-appreciated activity.

  5. how true. seems today’s society wants to be heard, and are willing to get as loud as it takes to achieve it. very hard to get anyone to truly “listen”,and then to realize we’re not the only one who may have an answer. james

  6. I know your point is valid.

    I have “listened” more persons into actual growth in the Kingdom of God, than I have “taught” or “preached” them into it.

    Listening to a person while at the same time listening to the Holy Spirit for “what to say and how to say it” (John 12:49) appears to be the VERY BEST COMMUNICATION.

  7. I came across a copy of your booklet “What Can We
    Know About The ENDTIMES?

    It is a real Blessing and I would love to get several copies for our Ministry. How do I go about obtaining a few hundred copies?

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Larry E. Camp
    Prayer Warriors On Call
    105 Wilson Circle
    Carrollton, Ga. 30117-1717
    770 834 7340 Cel: 770 301 9812

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