The listening skills and responsibilities senior leaders need

What is the role of senior leaders when it comes to listening?

How important is it for senior leaders to listen well inside organisations?

Today we have a guest article for you by Dr Kevin Ruck. He’s the co-founder of PR Academy, the largest provider of Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) qualifications, and the course leader for PR Academy’s delivery of the CIPR Specialist Diploma: Internal Communication.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the launch of his new book Leading the Listening Organisation, which he co-authored with Howard Krais and Mike Pounsford. It was wonderful to celebrate the authors’ hard work and see Comms friends including those pictured – Ann Pilkington, CIPR CEO Alastair McCapra, Liam FitzPatrick and Trudy Lewis.

I welcome this publication, it’s the perfect blend of  academic theory and practical examples. It helps internal communicators and people interested in the ways companies communicate, to focus on listening. You’ll not only discover why listening is important, but feel inspired to put it into practice.

We have a special offer for you. Use the code LL025 via the publisher’s website to save 25%. This offer is valid until 29 February 2024.

Montage of photos showing Rachel at the book launch. Use the code LL025 to save 25% until 29 Feb 2024

Rachel at the launch of Leading the Listening Organisation

Here’s Kevin…

The listening skills and responsibilities senior leaders need

In a post-pandemic era, one noticeable change is the growing recognition of the importance of listening to employees. But how is this best done, what are the pitfalls, and what responsibilities do senior leaders have?

In a new practical book titled ‘Leading the Listening Organisation’ that I have co-authored, these questions are tackled in detail.

In this article, I will focus on senior leader skills and responsibilities as these are still often misunderstood.

It is easy to assume that when it comes to senior leaders, we are thinking about their personal listening skills.

Although these are important, and I’ll explore what they are, their responsibilities go beyond this and include developing and championing a strong listening climate throughout the whole organisation.

In the research for the book, complemented by wider academic reading, four primary listening skills were identified:

  • Compassion
  • Openness
  • Responsiveness
  • Empathy.

Compassion entails caring for employees, taking time to understand their situation, and helping them to solve issues.

Openness is based upon a recognition that leaders do not know all the answers and employee perspectives are important if organisations are to be successful.

Employees rightly expect leaders to respond appropriately to what they hear and this may mean taking action based upon issues raised. But responsiveness does not necessarily mean providing an instant fix or solution to a concern. It depends upon the issue.

Leaders who are empathetic recognise that listening is not just about understanding what is said, but also appreciating the way that employees feel.

Alongside developing these CORE listening skills, leadership listening extends to establishing systems and processes for ongoing listening across the whole organisation.

Many organisations are now adopting more sophisticated approaches to listening to employees. Multiple methods such as regular pulse surveys, focus groups, interviews, use of Q&A tools at events, and forum discussions are now common place. As the volume of employee voice increases, the challenge is to make sense of what is being said to identify trends and themes in the suggestions made or issues being raised.

There is nothing more disengaging for employees than when they are encouraged to speak out only to find that what they say goes into a communication black hole.

The solution to this is to embed listening to employees into internal communication plans that incorporate data analysis and regular reporting to the board.

Senior leaders are responsible for developing this climate and for providing resources and tools to the internal communication team to enable them to manage the process. And they are responsible for responding to the themes and trends that are highlighted to them.

Leading the Listening organisation book on a table

It is this combination of strong leadership listening skills and systems for listening that moves an organisation from a passive to an active approach where the benefits are maximised.

And the benefits are significant.

  • Firstly, listening can surface reputational risk issues at an early stage that enables organisations to avoid a crisis.
  • Secondly, listening is associated greater flexibility, innovation, and the generation of good ideas on how to work effectively.
  • Thirdly, listening is associated with employee wellbeing, trust, and fairness.

As we have seen with the Post Office Horizon situation, leadership listening as I have outlined here could well have prevented the awful employee injustices and subsequent reputational damage.

In an age of relative uncertainty, listening can enable organisations to adapt more quickly to changing circumstances.

And as employees increasingly value working for fair and trustworthy employers, listening can play a vital role in creating spaces where people can flourish.

Leading the Listening Organisation: Creating Organisations that Flourish by Mike Pounsford, Kevin Ruck, Howard Krais and published by Routledge is available via the publisher’s website or your favourite book store.

Post author: Dr Kevin Ruck

Thank you Kevin, I know All Things IC’s readers will find this advice incredibly useful.

How are you listening inside your organisation? If you have a story to share, do check out our blogging guidelines and get in touch before writing.


First published on the All Things IC blog 6 February 2024.

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