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  • Writer's pictureMark O'Neil



Once we have dealt with the all important issue of CHARACTER on my list of the “10c’s”

of leadership, we move on to another important characteristic:

To be a great leader, one must be a great COMMUNICATOR.

So much is written on communication, that I can only hope to do justice to some of the items which are often overlooked. So, bear with me as I don’t get into some of the basics. That is, how we send messages, how we receive them, how we assure good transmission etc. Countless books and articles are written on the subject.

Let’s focus on the art of listening:

A key component of the excellent education I received for my coaching certification came from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and included the concept of listening at three different levels:

1. LEVEL ONE LISTENING: This is the most basic level. When we are listening at level one, the emphasis is on us, the listener. What does what is being said mean to us? It is processed through our lens, not from the perspective of the sender of the message. Therefore, we interpret what is being said through our own lens, resulting in little possibility of our hearing the message that was intended. From a coach client perspective or a supervisor employee perspective, it is acceptable for the client or employee to be at Level I while listening, but seldom appropriate for the coach or supervisor to be listening at that level.


With Level two listening, there is active focus on the speaker and the message he/she is intending to send. The focus is not just auditory, it involves watching body language, making eye contact, repeating the message back to the speaker in a way that not only shows we are listening, but that we have interpreted the message correctly. At Level II the focus is ALWAYS with the sender of the message.


This level of listening is the ultimate. It is also the hardest to maintain. It is made possible by listening to and processing what is seen and unseen. The listener is taking advantage of his/her intuition. What does the sigh mean? A slowing down of cadence? A long pause? What impact is the environment having on the message sender? What situations is she encountering in the office or at home? What do her experiences bring to the conversation?

For me, this is the hardest Level to maintain. I sometimes catch myself falling back into level 1 or 2. However, this is often where breakthroughs happen. It is where transformation and real change is most possible. Therefore, it is worth striving for.


Do you ever listen to a person and find yourself blurting out the first thing that comes to your mind? I know I do, and I always regret it. It doesn’t matter if I am right or wrong, but I have just put up an almost insurmountable barrier to positive communication. I have come to have a “24-hour rule”, where, if possible, I take that long to think about my response. To be sure, as a former CEO, I did not always have that much time, but taking some time minimizes the chances of a judgement that is incorrect or hurtful. Headspace (an excellent app for meditation practice) calls this concept “wise speech” and the other side of the communication coin “kind listening”.

To practice wise speech, the goal must be to be constructive. The message should be true, useful, well timed and delivered by the right person. For example, It does not do much good to tell a grieving person that her loved one is in a better place, Really? "sorry for your loss" will probably do. Or "that was a crucial mistake" is not a message that should be sent to an individual while in a group. The message must be delivered in an environment where the receiver feels safe. The same is true for “Kind listening” or the attitudinal mindset of the listener. Being receptive, non-judgmental, positive about the speaker and assuming no ill will (although it is often present) increases the chance of hearing what the sender has to say, especially when listening in Level III.

In the end, it is all about being fully present during a conversation. The coach or leader needs to be there, fully. Active listening is very rewarding, we learn how the other is sending their message and what is really meant or needed.

A leader’s commitment to practicing the principals of communication highlighted in this article can significantly strengthen his or her communication skills and thus contribute to her tool box of leadership skills.

Further reading on communication related to the above can be found in:

Co-Active Coaching, Changing Business, Transforming Lives, Henry and Karen Kinsey House.

Stay tuned for my next blog on “The 10 C’s Of Leadership” and why a great leader is also a “CULTIVATOR” of people he/she is associated with.

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