Leaders are often viewed as great orators who inspire people with their words, but listening is actually the most important leadership trait, according to Matt Zumstein, a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC.

“Many leaders are great speakers. However, when you’re able to listen and respond to what clients and employees are saying, you can become a more effective leader,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Zumstein about what he has observed in successful business leaders and how that translates into more successful organizations.

Why is listening the most important attribute for leaders?

Most people aren’t very good listeners. By listening carefully, you’re also able to ask better questions. Good leaders hear what customers and employees want and need. After listening and gathering useful information, a leader can provide better direction, and the company can focus more on the needs of its clients.

When speaking or presenting, it helps to include a compelling story. Storytelling, or having a theme to your story, is a powerful way to put forth ideas, whether selling a product to a client, giving a team its marching orders or for any other purpose. This can apply to a discussion with a prospect at lunch, in the boardroom or through an online video. The power of incorporating a real-life story into the message can be invaluable.

What other qualities do leaders need to demonstrate?

It’s very important to be authentic. When telling a story, you must be able to personalize the message in order to illustrate integrity, humility and vulnerability. These are characteristics a leader needs to create positive energy. When people can recognize authenticity, they will respond more favorably.

There used to be a clear separation between private and business lives. Today, with technology and social media, the separation is no longer clear. As a result, it is important to understand your client base and use available online tools to your advantage.

A good leader usually loves what he or she is doing. Colleagues and customers can easily recognize when you bring a passion to daily activities. Remember the Energizer bunny? In order to be an effective leader, find your bunny — the thing that energizes you and keeps you going. When you do that, it will become contagious. That’s why motivational speakers like Tony Robbins are successful — people can see their passion.

How do people sabotage their own leadership efforts?

If leaders become too focused on looking ahead at the challenges they face, they can forget what they’ve accomplished and miss out on significant learning opportunities. It is important to be grateful and thankful for what you’ve achieved.

Another problem is not empowering colleagues or support staff to help develop the self-confidence they need. A lack of confidence can breed negativity and infect the entire organization.

A lack of effective communication is the main reason that relationships, and businesses, fall apart. It’s important to be candid and authentic. If you promise a growth opportunity you can’t provide, you will quickly lose your credibility. When you admit what you can and cannot do, people recognize your authenticity and are more willing to support you.

To be an effective leader, don’t limit your focus to the end of a project. Carefully consider all that is needed to get there. If you’re looking to increase revenue by $1 million next year, what effect does that have on family time or the ability of the company to do charity work? How you get there is just as important as getting there.

Don’t forget about the fun part of life. Reward your team with tickets to a movie or gift cards for coffee. When people feel like they are recognized for their accomplishments, it creates a positive energy and everyone will be willing to strive for, and accomplish, a lot more. 

Matt Zumstein is a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC. Reach him at (650) 780-1641 or mzumstein@rmkb.com.

Learn more about Matt Zumstein.

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Published in Northern California