How to Listen Like a Leader: One Simple Mindset Shift

Mar 07, 2024

One of the most important skills that every leader must develop is the skill of communication. So, in a conversation, which is more important: speaking or listening?

If you said listening, you would be right.

It's biblical to be a good listener. James 1:19 says that everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. In this post, I would like to offer you a simple mindset shift to help you be quicker to listen. 

The Connection Between Speaking and Listening

First, if you're interested in learning how to improve your communication by speaking better.
watch this video on Communication. Becoming a better speaker is linked to becoming a better listener. It's listening that allows us to know what to speak about and how to respond to a person during a conversation. It's what allows us to hear the heart of the person that we are communicating with.

The Goal of Communication

Before I share the mindset shift with you, let just make sure we're on the same page about the goal of communication, the goal of a conversation. The goal is connection.

How do we connect with people's hearts? Through our ears--empathy. Why does empathy lead to heart-to-heart connection with people?

What is empathy? One very helpful definition that I came across in this YouTube video says that empathy is the ability to feel with a person. On the other hand, feeling for a person is sympathy.

If you can listen to a person in a way that makes them feel like you can feel what they are going through, that invites a deeper emotional connection to you; and that leads to influence.

Have you ever been in a conversation with a person when you're listening and you are welling up with tears because of what they are saying and what they are feeling? Those tears are evidence that you feel what they feel because your emotions have been evoked by their experience, and you are crying because you have left your world, your reality, and entered their world and their reality. You have actually put yourself in their shoes -- in their place -- and you're living their life with them. That is a very powerful ability to cultivate as a leader: the ability to leave your reality and enter somebody else's.

Learning from Jesus: Empathy and Humility

How do you, as a Christian leader, cultivate this ability to feel with a person in instead of just feeling for them? The answer is to look at the life of Jesus. Jesus is not only the perfect model of empathy, but He is the one who enables us to actually be an empathetic person.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!" - Philippians 2:3-8

This passage provides the mindset shift needed to be a better listener: the posture of humility. The way we can feel with a person instead of just feeling for them from a distance is by humbling ourselves enough to put ourselves in their shoes. That means to see us as equal to them, just like Jesus saw Himself equal to us. Even though He is 100% God, He identified with us in our flesh and blood when He came to earth to live and die for us our place.

Barriers to Good Listening

When you come into a conversation with a posture of humility and a mindset like Jesus, you're not coming into the conversation with the intention to fix the problem or to save or rescue the person from whatever his or her situation is. Your first intention is not to help, unless helping means to listen and to feel with the person in order to validate what that person is going through.

Often when we are in a conversation trying to listen, we're actually thinking about how we are going to respond to this person the first chance we get. Our mind is not on what the person is saying and trying to understand what they're going through by putting ourselves in their place; we're actually self-centered and self-absorbed when we are listening to the other person.

Self-centeredness is the number one barrier to good listening.

There are six common barriers to listening (check out this video for more details) -- things like distraction, preoccupation, a wandering mind, and preparing to speak instead of listening to understand. However, all those barriers can be boiled down to one fault, and that is being self-focused instead of others-focused.

Communication experts agree that the first quality of a good listener is the ability to take genuine interest in the other person. The reason we can't take genuine interest in the other person oftentimes is because we don't actually care enough about the other person.

If we're totally honest with ourselves, many of us just simply don't care enough to listen well.

If that resonates with you as it does with me, I must admit that a lot of conversations that I'm in, I am not fully present. I am not fully invested in what we are talking about and what the other person is actually going through and trying to get me to understand. For that, I repent. For that, we must repent.
That we are too self-centered and selfish and self-absorbed to leave our worlds and enter theirs.
This is something that Jesus died for; it's a sin that has been forgiven.

Humility in Listening

This mindset of coming into a conversation with a posture of humility is not as easy as it seems. Humility is one of the trickiest leadership qualities because the moment you think that you're humble, you're not. How do we cultivate humility? By remembering who you are.

"God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few." - Ecclesiastes 5:2

If we realize the grandeur and the majesty of God and who we are, a speck on this planet in the universe, it's a humble realization that God actually hears us when we pray. When Isaiah was in the temple, he saw the seraphim flying to and fro and said, "Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among and unclean people." (Is. 6)

The way we achieve humility is by standing in the presence of a holy, majestic, perfectly righteous, and upright God. That is the sure way to put us in our place. When you are humble, it not only enables you to listen to other people more empathetically, it also allows you to hear God more clearly. 

Listening to God

As leaders, it's vital not only learn how to listen to people but also learn how to listen to God. Taking a posture of humility will help us to do both: to listen well to people and to listen well to God.

So, how do we listen to God? How do you know when it's God voice? How do you know when it's your voice? How do you discern between the two?

➡️ Check out this video on how to discern between God's voice and your own voice.

Let me share a personal example of how I learned to listen to God. This was after college, and I really, really needed to hear from God. It was a life-changing decision: Should I stay with my boyfriend of 4 years? Or is it time for us to break up?

I was basically sensing that my boyfriend who I had been dating for 4 years might be being called into the overseas mission field. I, at the time, did not sense that I was being called into the overseas mission field, and that created a dilemma in me. I didn't know if we were meant to stay together in the long-term (get married), if he was being called overseas and I didn't sense that I was being called.

What I decided to do was to test and approve God's will for our relationship. I happened to have an opportunity that winter to go to the Urbana Conference in Urbana, Illinois. It's a huge missions conference for youth and young adults who are interested in the missions field and praying about being sent into the mission field or in some way supporting the mission. I went with the objective to get an answer from God: 1) you are going to stay with this guy because I'm going to give you a heart for missions here at this conference, or 2) you are going to leave the conference completely unchanged and thereby you have permission to end the relationship to release him to find somebody who can support him and partner with him on the mission field.

I went to this conference very desperate to hear from God. It was a very amazing conference, very moving, and I'm glad that I went; but at the end of it, I had to admit that I'm wasn't feeling it. I am called to a mission field here on the mainland, in my local community, but I didn't have that heart for another country that is required of a missionary. So I needed to take the next step.

The next step was simply to let the relationship go and see what happens, see how God works it out for both of us.

God used a person in my life at the time to also help me to hear His voice: my pastor's wife. She invited me over for dinner, and we talked at her kitchen table. Through her life experience and her walk with God and her story, God said to me, "Brenda, the only prayer you need to pray right now is the one I shared with you earlier from Matthew 6, 'Thy will be done.' The only thing you want is for my will to be done. Because as long as my will is done, you're going to be fine."

I left my pastor's wife house that day, and I remember driving to the beach in San Diego and walking along the beach, actively and intentionally surrendering my will to God. I realized I might never have my relationship back, and I didn't know what God was doing in my life. I didn't know if I could expect a clear reason for why this relationship was not working out. I didn't understand why God didn't give me a heart for missions. I was open and available for Him to give me that heart for the mission field so that I could stay with my boyfriend and go serve with him overseas! That just didn't happen.

I thought it was a godly desire. But sometimes, even your godly desires are not granted.

When I listened to God, He told me to surrender through Scripture, through the Lord's Prayer, through my pastor's wife--"You need to just surrender it and pray that MY will be done."

Over time, as I kept praying and kept surrendering what I wanted in my life, God eventually aligned my desires with his. He eventually cut the rings that I had attached to my expectations of that relationship with my boyfriend. Eventually, I was okay with not knowing everything.

That's when you really have to walk by faith and not by sight.

But I had heard enough from God to just surrender and pray for His will to be done. As you pray over time, God does change you through your prayers. Eventually, when the time was right, the guy who I ended up marrying came into my life, and now I'm happily married! This was the plan that God had for me all along, but it wasn't meant to be revealed to me at the time that I wanted it to be revealed to me. It was revealed to me at the right time, in the right way.


I hope that personal experience encourages you in whatever you're going through, whatever you're praying through, whatever you need to hear from God. If you watch the video about listening to God, you'll learn that your thoughts should be tied to His, because God's will is in His Word. So the best thing, the most practical thing you can do right now, is to know God's Word. If you know His Word, you will know His will. His words will come to you at the time that you need them, and those will be His directives.

If you've gained anything from this post, please share it with a friend and consider subscribing to the YouTube playlist to continue on this journey of leadership development with me.


Brenda Jung is a Christian leadership mentor who loves equipping middle and high school students with Christian leadership values and skills so that they can find and fulfill their God-given mission in life. Interested in more Christian leadership development for students? Visit or contact Brenda Jung at [email protected].