In less than two months we will have a presidential election here in the United States. Billions of dollars have been spent trying to influence voters to lean one way or another. Interestingly enough a majority of people will simply vote their party line and put very little effort into understanding the position of the other candidate or their leadership abilities. As a result, a comparatively small number of swing voters in an equally small number of states will end up deterring the final outcome. As someone who certainly has a strong sense of party loyalty but has crossed party lines on many occasions this has always frustrated me. No one party has the market cornered on good ideas or is the sole wellspring of capable leaders – the history of our nation has proven this.
I have spent considerable time studying leadership and observing leaders. I also enjoy reading about the presidency and the 43 occupants of the oval office. In my humble opinion, the most successful presidents have exhibited the following traits:
I find that most of us tend to avoid the emotionally difficult or awkward conversation. Instead of addressing an issue head on, we “beat around the bush” or try and avoid the issue altogether. This puts the onus on the other person to become a verbal detective and/or force the issue. This isn’t fair to them or us. Moreover, I find that most of these types of exchanges devolve into a passive-aggressive dynamic which is unhealthy for the relationship. You ever notice that avoidance never works – it just delays the inevitable. In matters of importance to you or someone else, when you don’t say what you truly mean (or feel) this is the textbook definition of be inauthentic as fellow human being.
I remember my mom telling me early on that “words matter.” Once you say something it cannot be unsaid. Even if you apologize and/or make excuses, the imprint on another person’s brain is still there. And, sometimes the repercussions can last for years or even a lifetime. There are many situations where I wish I […]
Just about every week I meet with a client who bemoans the lack of accountability in their work environment. My first response is always, “we are what we tolerate.” However, I then walk them through the four reasons (in my experience) why things don’t get done: There is a lack of clarity about what needs to […]
At what point did it stop becoming okay to have a different opinion in our country? I just finished reading the newspaper and yet again, having a different point of view quickly degraded into personal attacks by both parties. We have become the hyper-sensitive generation who can’t seem to tolerate a perspective that is different from our own. A democratic culture is supposed to foster an environment of healthy debate which hopefully leads to the best possible outcomes for the majority of people. It is through exchanging wide-ranging ideas, striving to uncover the facts and challenging status quo thinking that we move forward as a nation. Debate is a good thing! And guess what, no one party or individual has the market cornered on good ideas. Your side won’t always win the argument or election and that is how it should be. And, if you always tow the party line you are an ideologue not a free thinker.
A conversation without listening is merely the exchange of two monologues. If we limit our exchange of information to what we already know or believe, we are limiting our capacity to learn, grow and have healthy relationships. Almost everyday you witness evidence of public or private figures that really have no interest in hearing what anyone else is saying. It has become practice to become intractable in your views and block out any contrary evidence. In reality, our society tends to reward brashness and poor behavior these days. Just look at who dominates the airwaves.
Most people I know aren’t good listeners. They are more focused on what they think and what they have to say about something rather than actually listening to what’s being said. I have a colleague who states that as a leader you need to “listen until it hurts” and I completely agree with him. It’s basic human nature that the level of satisfaction any of us have with a given conversation is directly related to how well we feel the other party was actually listening to what we had to say. Except when we are in a classroom no one actually enjoys being lectured to or talked at.
As you grow as a leader and start to have some success it’s important that you not get too full of yourself and remain somewhat humble. This is especially true as you begin to do more public speaking. While you certainly can, it’s not advisable to just say whatever is on your mind and believe you have all the answers. I’m often amazed how many people forget this fact. Otherwise smart people who have a lot to share with an audience kill their credibility with unwise or unnecessarily controversial statements. You have to know when to use your personal censor button.
Leadership Thought #268 – Always Remember To Have The Courage Of Your Convictions and Speak Your Truth
Not every audience is ready to hear what you have to say but say it anyway if you believe in your message. Sometimes a little resistance is good. It forces you to work on your delivery and thought process. It also means you may be challenging conventional wisdom and forcing people to get outside of their comfort zone. A leader’s job is not to make everyone happy or validate individual misconceptions but rather to put a spotlight on the truth as he/she sees it. Conflict and misunderstanding are part of life, but when managed properly they can lead to deeper agreement, greater commitment and better results. Never fall into the trap of telling people what they want to hear unless it also aligns with what they need to hear.
As a verbal person I don’t have issues with talking. However, I do find myself rambling on at times and taking the long way around to making my point and/or connecting the dots. I do my best to remember some advice I received from a mentor many years ago that when communicating with others in a professional setting “less is more.” These days people have very short attention spans. Most of us are literally bombarded with communication all day long. It’s hard to keep everything straight and know when to pay attention. Sometimes it feels easier just block out whatever doesn’t resonate quickly.
In my experience, the best leaders are comfortable in multiple and diverse work and social settings. They are able to adjust their style to meet the needs of their audience or conform to the group dynamics. They understand that a leader without a receptive audience is handcuffed in his/her ability to turn a vision into reality. People tend to connect with others that they feel they can relate to. All conversations are a search for some level of common ground. The quicker you get there the sooner you can focus on the purpose of the discussion.
While email and text messaging are great communication tools, they are poor vehicles for dealing with conflict. Sadly, they can be used very effectively for instigating conflict. I’ve seen passive-aggressive behavior taken to new heights by individuals who don’t have to worry the interpersonal dynamics of looking another person in the eye when talking to them or reading and responding to group body language and other visual cues. It’s easy to rail against someone from a distance. It’s also common to misinterpret the intentions behind communication and jump to conclusions that may be flawed.
There is no more important job of a leader that providing clarity about the mission, vision, values, competitive positioning and direction of the company. Without this information, employees are simply making it up as they go along and/or reacting to events as they occur rather that proactively making the “right” things happen.
In organizations as in democracies the inability to foster constructive conflict is a troubling development. To grow and get better, there needs to be disagreement about how to best do things and find new answers to old problems.
The history of business is littered with the failures of innately gifted and talented leaders who never realized their full potential because they were slow to change, didn’t work hard enough at getting smarter, couldn’t think their way out of adversity or thought they had all the answers.
High performing organizations don’t shy away from disagreements. In fact, they encourage constructive conflict between team members. The best solutions are rarely the ones where everyone comes to the same conclusion right away. Different points of view, passion and strong opinions are the lifeblood of any business.
I’ve found there is a direct relationship between how much time a leader spends actually interacting with people (at all levels of the company) and how they ultimately feel about their job. It’s very tempting to fall into the trap of becoming “Atlas” and carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, but it is unwise, stressful, shortsighted and inhibits your ability to actually lead.
When you are a leader or manager part of your job is to listen until it hurts. You need to force yourself to pay full attention to what the other person is saying and then ask clarifying questions to make sure you fully understand them. It is also critical that you pay attention not just to what is being said, but also the body language and tone of voice. Both provide clues as to what is important to that person.
Way too many leaders spend far too much time tinkering with the internal operations of their business or organization (often when their sales are stagnating or failing). The bottom line is that unless there is consistent and reliable sales activity, the internal operations will be a challenge anyway.
I’ve written a number of times about the need that all of us have for personal validation and acknowledgement. A simple way to do this is to look someone in the eye, actually listen to what they say and smile when it is appropriate.
The more people who are knowledgeable about the basic metrics of the business, the more people you have who will be able to make a connection between their work and the actual outcomes of the company. As long as you are a reasonably fair employer, they will take pride in the organization when things are going well and pitch in when you need them to make the extra effort.