Listen Well, Lead Better, by Steve & Becky Harling
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Books. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
How much self-awareness is enough to write a book like this? As a reader I look at this book with at least two different perspectives. On the one hand, as someone whose communications are frequently awkward, I have to deal with the fact that I do not always listen to others as well as I should and find myself around a lot of people who do not listen to me very well at all. And no doubt that is a common experience. Additionally, though, writing a book like this is setting oneself up for difficulty, because the author appears to believe that his experiences (which include being put to pasture because of a feud he had with the head of a board at a congregation) and his self-education with John Maxwell make him an expert on listening and therefore feeling himself confident to share his insights with the rest of us. And setting oneself up as an expert in graciously listening to others as a way of gaining influence and increasing buy-in for one’s own plans and goals gives others rather telling and fierce comebacks if one fails to live up to the standard one has written about so knowledgeably here.
This book is a bit less than 200 pages long and is divided into ten chapters. The book begins with a discussion of listening as a missing ingredient to better influence that many people overlook (1). After that there is a call by the authors for the reader to be more self-aware and less self-obsessed (2). This leads to a discussion about the need to know one’s people if one is a church leader, likely the intended audience of this book (3). After that the authors discuss how to give the gifts of trust and empowerment to those one leads (4) and to discern the hidden values that often divide people with broadly similar expressed values (5). After that the authors discuss the need to invite others to help shape one’s vision (6). What follow after this are some chapters that deal with areas of communication where people struggle, such as engaging constructively in conflict (7) and looking for the truth in often painful criticism (8). After that the authors discuss the importance of listening to collect stories (9) and finally to create a sacred space to reflect and listen to God (10), after which the book ends with acknowledgments and notes.
That said, it is most important with a book like this to read it and examine it and apply what needful advice it can provide. And this book definitely provides some needful advice on how people can be less self-absorbed and better able to take the time to get to know other and their concerns and to recognize the validity and importance of other perspective aside from one’s own. It is lamentable that in our day and age there are so many good books that encourage us to be better leaders by serving and listening and being humble and gracious but it appears that we do such a poor job at practicing that which we believe to be of importance. If this book encourages people to listen better and deal with conflict better and see the truth in criticism it will have done good work. As it is, all too many of us fight rather poorly and are rather thin-skinned when it comes to criticism and can use all the encouragement we can get to become better in such areas. One imagines this is likely true of the book’s authors as well.