By Lt. Col. Ralph Gracia
Motivational speaker Brian Tracy is credited with saying, “What makes a good leader is the use of effective managing skills such as spending 50% or more of their time listening carefully.” It’s important to emphasize listening by engaging your audience. These sessions can be informal, such as at a coffee break, or it can be formal, at a planned meeting or even in a classroom. Listening isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, it’s a skill few people ever develop or master.
Listening is hard work; it is more tiring than simply talking or just hearing. When you hear something, it goes through one ear and out the other. However, when you actively listen to someone, you retain it with your ears, mind, and heart. When you can really focus while listening, you gain a strong advantage in the ability to acquire and retain valuable knowledge. Listening is also a key factor in understanding and influencing others to become leaders. As you actively listen, better understanding takes place and results materialize.
Every year, the Air Force Junior ROTC program (AFJROTC) spends quality time teaching communication skills, such as listening productively. In AFJROTC, we teach cadets how to listen as they embark on securing opportunities for scholarships. Students are required to maintain discipline, have integrity, and sustain good grades to fulfill all their requirements. For example, recommendation letters, physical fitness tests, and interviews are all necessary before cadets attend prestigious programs like Boys or Girls State, the Air Force Academy, Air Force ROTC at the college level and the “National Youth Leadership Forum.”
During the 2019 AFJROTC National Drill Competition, I observed the Armed Regulation Team executing a drill sequence showing their successful listening and communication skills. Cadet Major Andy Dominguez (Armed Regulation Commander) earned one of the Top Three Commanders award in the nation. Cadet First Lieutenant Jordanny Batista (Unarmed Exhibition Commander) and his team won a trophy as one of the Top Five Unarmed Exhibition Teams in the nation. Cadet Major Arbaz Peters (Unit Commander) and Cadet First Lieutenant Jordanny Batista both earned a full ride to Manhattan College on an AFROTC Scholarship. Blending their powerful listening skills with solid training, the team will secure themselves a strong foundation for leadership.
Listening can have a positive impact on a person’s personal and professional life. As famous business man and motivational speaker Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” The more familiar you are with words, inflections, and tones; an active listener would learn to “hear”; therefore, less confusion takes place. Before we begin dealing with others, it is wise to take time to listen. Listening will help with understanding their motivations, fears and goals. The best of leaders listens first and then armed with the understanding from listening closely, they can motivate, teach, and help their team grow.