Picture a well-known exceptional leader. We often think of these leaders within the context of them talking; perhaps giving an inspiring speech that rallies the troops, facilitating a discussion, or providing clear direction. However, Zenger Folkman’s research has found that leaders with a preference for listening are rated as significantly more effective than those who spend the majority of their time holding forth.
Although most tend to picture senior leaders as talking rather than listening, my colleague Joe Folkman and I also found that leaders at a higher organizational level preferred listening more than supervisors lower down in the hierarchy. The graph below shows the percentage of leaders with a preference for listening.
We recently analyzed the self-assessment results from 577 leaders on their preference for talking versus listening. We identified 104 leaders with a strong preference for talking and compared their results to 135 leaders who preferred listening.
We also collected effectiveness ratings on these leaders, using evaluations from managers, peers, direct reports, and others. On average, leaders were rated by 13 different raters. We measured leadership effectiveness on 16 differentiating competencies and examined the average rating from all rater groups.
We found that leaders with a strong self-preference for listening were rated as significantly more effective on 13 of the 16 competencies. The graph below shows the results for the two groups. All of these data were highly significant.