The best three words of leadership advice ever shared don’t come from John Maxwell, Judy Feld, or Marshall Goldsmith. You won’t find them at (yes, that is an actual site, and yes, you just threw up in your mouth a little bit). Brenda Ueland, from her essay The Art of Listening:

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. Think how the friends that really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius as though it did us good, like ultraviolet rays. This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.

Not long ago, all the great family-owned garden centers, nurseries, and greenhouses came here to Nashville for their annual Fall Event. They asked me to speak with them about teamwork, leadership, and culture.

The biggest lesson on leadership is also the simplest: Listen.

In the quote above, substitute “friends” with “leaders.”

Think how the leaders that really listen are the ones we move toward…

It’s undeniable, isn’t it? As an officer in the “I’m sorry I’m late… I didn’t want to come” Socially Awkward Club, I cherish what Ueland writes next, and I believe it’s not only the best three words of leadership advice ever shared, but the best three words of human being advice ever shared:

Before… when I went to a party I would think anxiously, “Now try hard. Be lively. Say bright things. Talk. Don’t let down.” And when tired, I would have to drink a lot of coffee to keep this up. Now before going to a party I just tell myself to listen with affection to anyone who talks to me, to be in their shoes when they talk; to try to know them without my mind pressing against theirs, or arguing, or changing the subject. No. My attitude is, “Tell me more.”

“Listen with affection…”

Those three words blew me away. What an unusual way to consider listening, yet especially in this day and age, it’s brilliant, isn’t it? In a world where it seems like every self-proclaimed street corner thought leader has a hot take forged from their Platitudes & Aphorisms Magnetic Poetry set, take the road less traveled by. Don’t be a thought leader. Listen with affection, and be a thoughtful one instead.