Communication in the workplace has to do with how we interact with our colleagues on many different levels simultaneously. It has to do with how we plan and convey the messages we want to give, both verbally and nonverbally; and with how we listen to, interpret, and respond to others’ messages.
And one way to characterize the successful execution of this is to say that we’ve engaged in effective dialogue.
We can call these interactions many things, of course: discussions, conversations, arguments, etc. – but I quite like the term ‘dialogue’ as it’s defined in Clutterbuck’s (2007) book, Coaching the Team at Work. Here he defines it as “approaching an issue with as open a mind as possible, with a view to understanding other people’s perspectives and perhaps creating a new perspective”.
This is a pretty powerful definition, I think. It highlights the fact that we all have our different viewpoints, values, and beliefs that have been shaped by everything we’ve ever experienced – and that we carry these with us everywhere we go, into every interaction we have.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it can be a dangerous thing if we don’t recognize it and deal with it appropriately. It’s important to acknowledge, and even celebrate, the fact that we are coming from a very different place in many ways from the person sitting across the table from us – and vica-versa. With an open mind we can embrace our differences as well as our similarities; and we can identify and capitalize on the unique experiences that everybody brings to the table.
And, as Clutterbuck points out, we have the opportunity to shape these diverse perspectives into a new perspective.
I believe that these “new perspectives” should be the primary goal of dialogue. They can serve as the underlying philosophy that creates and guides a more effective culture for the partnership or team. (Because culture happens everywhere, all the time; with or without our conscious input. So we really should be proactive about it.)
Culture is a word we use to explain how we see and do things together. It speaks to our collective understandings about the explicit and implicit rules, roles, expectations, and protocols that govern how we approach problems together and how we interact with one another. If not handled actively, honestly, and purposefully, we leave the culture that develops to chance. And as we all know, that can be an ugly thing.
So the bottom line is that we can, and should, take charge of shaping our culture – and that we can do so by learning to engage in effective dialogue. It starts with cultivating our own sense of self-awareness; and it continues by keeping an open mind in trying to understand and integrate the healthiest and most helpful viewpoints, values, and beliefs of all involved.
I recently presented a workshop on intergenerational communication in the workplace; where I talked about various communication styles and how the generations could work better together by understanding their similarities and differences.
In retrospect, one thing I could have included was a discussion of the role of crystallized versus fluid intelligence (as originally proposed by psychologist Raymond Cattell). I didn’t, however, and so here’s as good a place as any to mention it…
If the terms crystallized and fluid intelligence aren’t familiar to you, here’s the idea: the former refers to accumulated knowledge gained from previous learning and experiences. The latter involves abstract reasoning and the ability to problem-solve novel situations. As we age, our crystallized intelligence increases as we experience and learn more things; but our fluid intelligence decreases.
In an environment where different generations are working together we can use this knowledge to our advantage. For example, the older members of the team could provide information about the historical context of a problem (i.e., how it came to be; what has and hasn’t worked in the past) etc.; while the younger members could use this knowledge to brainstorm new and creative solutions (while not having to reinvent the wheel.) In other words, both groups can bring the best of their brain-power to the table; working together to develop creative and progressive solutions based on sound principles and time-honored wisdom.
There is lots of information to be found about generational differences; but not as much about how these differences can be acknowledged, celebrated, and used in a productive way. It’s definitely an area worth paying attention to as people continue to work longer while the younger generations are entering the workforce.
What is you leadership style?
The study of leadership is certainly not a new one, and there are almost too many theories to count. A quick internet search, however (psychology.about.com), identifies that most of the different leadership theories that have emerged over the years can be classified into a handful of major types:
“Great Man” Theories
Relationship Theories/Transformational Leadership
Management theories/Transactional Leadership.
There are various theories and models listed under each type, and they’re well worth looking into. The style of leadership you adopt can either be a success or a failure, depending upon a myriad of factors: what works with one personality in one environment may not work in the next. Understanding the theories listed above (and any others floating around out there) can help you clarify what you believe to be true about leadership, and how you might best approach your own leadership development.
Within any of these theories, however, the individual leader and his or her preferences also need to be taken into account. In addition to the leadership theories that have been studied, there are also many leadership “styles” listed in the literature. Again, a quick internet search identifies some of the more common ones discussed:
Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership
Participative or Democratic Leadership
Again, these appear to be some the most prominent; but there are other leadership styles identified in the literature that would be worth researching for yourself. I’ve included these ones in particular for two reasons: one because they seem to have the most written about them; and two because these are the styles I see most often in my own leadership coaching practice.
Unfortunately I see examples of Authoritarian Leadership more often than I’d like; where the leader makes decisions unilaterally and often unfairly. And outside of military or paramilitary organizations, this never works. The other styles listed can be more or less effective depending on the environment, culture, and people involved; and you’d be wise to know the difference.
Transformative Leadership is one of the more contemporary styles to be identified, and is often touted as one of the most effective. It is about inspiring others and sharing a greater vision. This type of leadership is great, of course; but it’s often best balanced by a Transactional Leadership style based on role compliance and incentives for achievement. Of the styles listed above, my own bias falls toward Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership; where the leader is able to adjust his or style in response to the unique situation or task at hand.
So what is your leadership style?
If you want to be a strong leader in any capacity, it would be wise to start crafting your leadership development plan.
Where do you want to be a better leader? Perhaps it’s at home with your kids. Or maybe you’re looking for a promotion at work. Or maybe you just want to be a stronger role model in your community… Wherever you want to be a leader, you can – as long as you’ve got the passion as well as the ability to reflect, learn, and grow.
Your leadership development plan begins with an assessment of who you are and who you want to be. When targeting areas for this step, try to just pick two or three to start with. Some actions we take will have a more broader-reaching impact, and will accelerate our growth more quickly than others. Choose a couple of areas that you really feel are priorities. You can always add on to the list and increase the complexity of your plan later.
As possible goal areas, consider any and all ideas that come to you through your ongoing self-reflection. And think about where you can begin to practice your leadership skills: what non-threatening situations can you identify to practice on a small scale? – It’s really about flexing the muscles and developing smaller habits that lead to new ways of being.
Also be creative when thinking about the supports you need to help with your leadership growth. Perhaps a manager or mentor can help create leadership opportunities for you. Maybe there’s a training course you can sign up for at work or in your community…
Remember that it’s important to be flexible in your thinking when creating and acting on your leadership development plan. In order to grow, we need to do some things differently than we have in the past!
Here are a few quotes I like to serve as food for thought in this regard:
“He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” – Abraham Maslow
“The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done that way.’” – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso
“It takes a habit to replace a habit.” – Napoleon Hill
Here are some questions to get started. Answer them in as much detail as you can, and take as much time as necessary to make them clear and actionable:
What do you see as your major strengths?
What do you see as your areas for growth?
Which skills related to your leadership is it most important for you to develop?
In what ways can you apply your strengths to more areas of your work and life?
How can you strengthen the weaknesses you identified?
What resources do you need to strengthen these skills?
How will you know when you are successful?
All of these questions are equally important, and they’re not easy to answer. They take a great deal of time and reflection, and they require complete honesty and candor. You will also need to revisit them regularly, and ask as many people as you can to answer them for you as well – and be prepared and willing to hear their answers.
Also take the time to revisit the last question until you have a crystal-clear answer: we can’t get to where we’re going until we know exactly where it is we’re headed!
Communication and leadership go hand in hand: in order to be good leaders we need to be good communicators. But unfortunately this isn’t always the case in the leadership ranks.
When I started coaching some time back, I made it my mission to absorb as much information as I could about communication and leadership: devouring books on leadership models, leadership coaching, business, etc. I interviewed leaders on different levels in different sectors, and noted their common themes and struggles. I spoke with numerous teams to hear their experiences…
Eventually I hit that place of circular learning: where whatever you read or do, you encounter the same themes. The ‘nothing new under the sun’ phenomenon (or what they refer to in some research models as ‘saturation’).
And really, the themes are not difficult: if you ask a bunch of lay-people what types of leadership communication and relationship styles they believe to be most effective, they would come up with similar ideas.
So I began to think that this was too easy: that this knowledge isn’t rocket science, and that the paradigm shift from a harsh micro-management, or a disconnected, style of leadership to a more effective ‘people-centered’ approach clearly must have already happened without me. I thought that maybe I missed the ball and that I’d have to redefine my niche.
But to this day, whenever I speak with teams, I know that I was way off base with my presumption. Over and over I continue to hear the same complaints: a lack of strong leadership – particularly in terms of unclear, autocratic, or even no communication.
I know that there are also some very effective leadership styles that aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘people-friendly’ – and that different situations call for different responses. But all in all, I think we know what works best for the majority of circumstances and environments.
But why do many of us revert to old habits, or continue to do what goes against what we know to be a better way?
We do this for a number of reasons. First of all, because we’re human. And most of us are not villains: we do what we need to do to get the job done quickly for the higher good or common goal – whether our delivery is popular or not (and this certainly does take some courage). We also tend to revert back to automatic ways of being when we’re under stress.
And change is hard.
But to sustain a change we need to remain conscious of the alignment, or misalignment, of our intentions and our actions – and we need to understand and buy into why it might be important to practice a more people-centered approach (hint: things like morale and retention; better group cohesion leading to better initiatives; reduced conflict and stress – you get the idea).
We need to purposely and consistently examine our habits, patterns, and beliefs – and not be afraid to venture out of our comfort zones to experiment with different styles.
As leaders, this ‘venturing out’ is quite often our norm. So why not in the areas of interpersonal relationships and more emotionally-intelligent communication?
The best way to do this is to ask for specific and honest feedback from those most impacted by our actions: by asking how we come across now, and what might work better (and, of course, being willing to hear it). In addition, hiring a coach to help identify developmental opportunities, and staying on track with them, can be a very effective strategy.
I wrote an article the other day for another publication about how to build trust – and I posted it again here. The request I received was specifically in regard to building trust within business teams, but I think the answer is applicable to all relationships regardless of context:
A solid level of trust is paramount to any situation where individuals and teams need to reach a common set of goals. And the cornerstones of trust are assertive communication and consistency in behavior.
People often confuse “assertive” with “aggressive”, but they couldn’t be any different. Assertive basically means standing up for one’s own rights while respecting the rights of the other. Aggressive, on the other hand, means standing up for your own rights while disrespecting or disregarding the rights of the other.
(These are both different from passivity: the third style of communication. Being passive simply means allowing your own rights to be violated in your interactions.)
So with this definition in mind, assertive communication implies interactions that are clear, direct, respectful, and purposeful. In order for people or teams to develop trust between one another, both parties need to know what they want from their interactions; and they need to communicate their needs and desires in a way that is understood. They also need to be sure that they understand the other party’s positions and requests, and they need to be focused on outcomes that best meet the interests of all involved.
(Of course this isn’t always possible, but the more all parties strive for this ideal the greater levels of trust will be built.)
In addition to this assertive communication, trust requires a high degree of behavioral consistency. In other words, in order to build trust people need to “walk the walk and talk the talk” in a variety of situations over time – and they need to have a solid track record of integrity and results.
Basically stated, when we know what to expect of one another – and we’re usually happy with the results of their actions – trust is maintained. (And as they say, trust takes forever to develop but is broken at the drop of a hat.)
So in order to fortify and develop trust between one another, we need to regularly engage in assertive communication and be consistent in our behaviors – and we can only do our own part in this equation; modeling this way of being in the hopes that that’s how others will begin to interact with us.
And on a final note, it also helps if we can develop some sort of relationship with the people around us: people do business with people they know, like, and respect. Sharing a bit of ourselves and building rapport with others in a meaningful way can help us all interact more assertively and consistently.
Have you ever wondered how to become a leader if you’re not what you’d consider “leadership material”? Can anyone be a leader?
Simply stated, anyone can become a leader by having the ability and desire to take on such a role; and by having the opportunity to step into or create the role. Some people just seem better equipped for leadership, of course, but I like to think that we can all be leaders in any area in which we feel a sense of passion and investment.
The old “nature versus nurture” debate need not be a debate. The answer to any question that ponders which of these is responsible for anything is “both”. And this holds true with leadership as well: some leaders are appear to be born, and some appear to be made. Entrepreneurs and individuals who rise quickly and seamlessly through the ranks, for example, are often natural-born leaders. The “made” leader is often the individual who has been promoted because of his exceptional technical skills and knowledge. But even so, “natural-born” leaders need an environment that allows their leadership to take form; and individuals who are molded into successful leaders tend to possess some inherent traits that make their success possible.
So first and foremost, the aspiring leader needs to have a great degree of self-awareness and introspection. Leadership looks different on different levels – from the management of things to the management of people; from managing parts of the system to creating a vision for the entire interplay of systems. The aspiring leader needs to know where her interests truly lie; and she needs to understand her inherent strengths and weaknesses. She needs to know where she will be capable of growing; and which structures, systems, and environments will best support her development.
There is a big difference between “management” skills and “leadership skills”. Leaders may or may not be good managers; but they should learn (or learn to delegate). A good manager should also learn to be good leader: he should be able to manage “things and processes” as well as interact effectively with the people who make up the work unit or organization. He should be able to do the hands-on work on the ground level, while simultaneously thinking from the perspective of the larger system.
So again, anyone can be a leader; but the conditions need to be right. The aspiring leader’s success depends on her present knowledge and skills; but even more importantly on the combination of who she is, what she wants, what she can create, and what will support her. Becoming a leader takes a deep awareness of internal and external realities, dynamics, and possibilities; as well as the desire and ability to constantly learn and grow.
Leadership skills and relationship development are two of the biggest themes I see in my coaching practice. This article is about two of the most common mistakes (and remedies) I see in these areas:
A common mistake I see with new leaders is that they too often try to jump in too quickly without establishing a solid framework for who they want to be as leaders and what they want to accomplish (and why they want to accomplish it). Too often the new leader will try to assert his or her authority too quickly; changing systems and delegating tasks without really thinking it through. This often sets up power-struggles and/or sets the leader’s reputation on shaky grounds.
On the contrary, I’ve noticed that exceptionally good leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They also take the time to observe – to really understand the past and present workings of their environment, and to understand the explicit and implicit lines of influence and sub-cultures that have evolved over time.
So the first step to being a good leader is exploration. Take the time to engage in some solid self-reflection; and then slow down and observe – asking more questions and giving fewer answers.
A common mistake I see in relationships is when people hold all of their hopes on the other person changing. But blaming the other person (no matter how justly so), and holding out for them to change, just doesn’t help.
So the important first step is to really be clear on what relationships you want to build or improve upon, and why: develop compelling reasons for why you want this to work – and keep these in mind so that you can persevere with things get tough.
The next step is to really empathize and understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree with their logic, but you do need to understand their unique perspective if you want to move forward with them. Understand non-judgmentally how they came to they see things as they do, and then you can work together to start bridging the gaps. (Also develop the perspective together that people themselves are not the problem: it’s the relationship itself that needs your focus).
So in any type of relationship, as a leader or otherwise, always keep in mind that the most successful people are the ones who first do their own self-work. They question their own motives, understandings, skills, and abilities – and they take the time to discover what is and what could be before charging ahead!
I’ve been reading some marketing stuff from Dan Kennedy lately, and one of the sections in that material talks about managing others’ expectations of you. This post is about my own thoughts on the topic, although I did want to share something that Dan Kennedy had referenced in his material – it was just too good to pass up:
Kennedy referred to an experiment done years ago about people’s expectations: Esteemed art critics and gallery owners were invited to an art show featuring five up-and-coming artists. They were all given information about these artists ahead of time, while they rode in limos and were wined and dined at a fancy reception.
It seems that this whole “set-up” of the artists had shaped the critics’ and gallery owners’ impressions of them before they even saw their work. This was evident because they all gave the highest marks and praise to the five new artists, even among the other twenty or so well-known artists in attendance.
What the critics and gallery owners didn’t know was that out of the five artists, only three were legit. The other two were an 8-year-old child, and an elephant who splashed paint onto the canvas with his trunk.
The point of this story is that people are going to form an opinion about you and have certain expectations of you – and that you can control these beliefs and assumptions to a great degree by “setting the stage” for them.
People often use “rules of thumb” that allow them to make quick (but often erroneous) assumptions about what they see. We can take advantage of this tendency by making it easy for them to see what they want to see.
Simply stated, as shown in the story above, you can be anyone you want to be in the eyes of another – simply by playing the part. And this is not about being deceitful, but rather about “putting your best foot forward”. By talking the talk and dressing the part (literally or figuratively), people draw conclusions about your experience, intellect, skill, and ability.
And who are you to argue with their perceptions?
So decide who you want to be in this life, and step into that role. And that’s how others will view you. Then a self-fulfilling prophecy is born: the way people view you is how they’ll treat you – and so that’s who you become.