People want leaders who are passionate. Hearing and seeing the leader’s deep commitment to the success of the enterprise or to a set of principles or values around how to achieve that success inspires their own passion and assures them that the leader won’t abandon them when the going gets rough.
Leaders who are passionate:
- Commit honestly. They genuinely believe in what they espouse. People are touched and engaged by the genuineness of their passion.
- Make a clear case without being dogmatic. They convey the power of their belief without dismissing or belittling others’ points of view.
- Invite real dialogue about their passion. Their passion is balanced with openness: they want to hear and integrate others’ points of view.
- Act in support of their passion. They walk their talk: their day-to-day behaviors support their beliefs.
- Stay committed despite adversity and setbacks. Their commitment isn’t flimsy. When difficulties arise, they hold to their principles and find a way forward.
People need to experience a leader’s courage. When the leader is courageous, people feel able to take risks; the leader’s demonstrated courage provides a safety net for them. If the leader isn’t courageous, people will feel they have to protect themselves and will fragment into self-focus and even paranoia. Collaboration and innovation will suffer.
Leaders who are courageous:
- Make necessary, tough choices. When a decision needs to be made, they consider carefully (even if information is scarce), make the decision, and follow through.
- Put themselves at risk for the good of the enterprise. They act for the greater good, even when it may threaten their own success.
- Do things that are personally difficult. They do what’s required, even if it’s personally uncomfortable or frightening.
- Take responsibility for their actions. They own their decisions, words, and actions rather than denying or placing blame.
- Admit mistakes and apologize. When they’re in the wrong, they say, “I’m sorry I … ,” without caveats, and they say what they’ll do to fix it.
Wisdom is the reflective attribute that balances farsightedness, passion, and courage. When a leader is wise, people respect the quality of that leader’s thinking and decisions, and they feel respected by the quality of his or her attention. If the leader isn’t wise, people will second-guess decisions, hesitate to follow, and ultimately look for wiser counsel.
Leaders who are wise:
- Are deeply curious; they listen. Like children, they have a will to explore and understand what they discover.
- Assess situations objectively (fair witness). They make every effort to see people and situations as accurately as possible.
- Reflect on and learn from their experience. Whether things go well or badly, they glean everything they can to improve going forward.
- See patterns and share their insights with others. They pull back the camera to see the core elements, and they say what they see.
- Act based on what they believe is morally right. They’re clear about their own moral code, and they live by it.
Generous leaders want their people to thrive, and they support this intention through their words and actions. When leaders are generous, their people feel cared for, seen, and valued. It creates a hopeful environment that feels rich even in hard times. People whose leaders are generous become more generous in response; they are more supportive of each other, the leader, and the business.
Leaders who are generous:
- Assume positive intent. They operate on the premise that people are generally trying to do the right thing.
- Share power and authority. They continually find ways to give people more autonomy, influence, and responsibility.
- Share what they know. They provide the information and knowledge people most need and want.
- Freely give credit, praise, and reward. They consistently acknowledge and appreciate others’ contributions.
- Provide the resources people need to succeed. They make sure that their people get the support they need from the organization.
Trustworthy leaders create an environment of safety and calm, where people feel they can put down roots and grow. They relax into the work and the team rather than guarding their words and actions. When people trust their leader, much more of their energy is available to the organization, and conversation becomes easier and more open. A trusting environment supports simplicity, efficiency, and innovation.
Leaders who are trustworthy:
- Tell the truth as they understand it. They don’t shade or position the truth to benefit themselves: they are honest.
- Do what they say they will do. They keep their commitments. When they can’t, they’re clear and honest about what’s changed.
- Keep confidences. They’re rigorous about discretion; if they say they’ll keep something private, they will.
- Speak and act for the greater good. Their words and actions are consonant and support the success of the enterprise.
- Are capable and get results. They have the skills and experience to do the job before them, and they do it.
Listening and Self-Talk for Leaders
Listening is a developed skill, like tennis or carpentry. And like other skills, learning to do it well involves acquiring new behaviors. These are the listener ways of behaving, in a few words:
The first skill of listening is so simple and obvious that we tend to underestimate its importance. However, paying attention to someone when he or she is speaking is the first effort you can make to keep the focus on that person.
These are the key elements of attending, or paying attention:
Physical focus: making eye contact, turning toward the other person, not doing other tasks
Verbal focus: not carrying on other conversations (even via e-mail or texting)
Mental focus: making an effort to follow the other person’s thinking and understand their feelings (versus daydreaming or thinking about what you’re going to say when he or she takes a breath)
As with attending, inviting is something most people do automatically when they’re relaxed and interested and when they have a good relationship with the person who’s speaking. Bringing this skill to your conscious awareness gives you the option of using it to build better relationships of all kinds.
The skill of inviting has two key elements:
Physical gestures: nodding, matching body language and expressions
Verbal gestures: nonword sounds, encouraging phrases, brief questions that specifically encourage the speaker to begin or continue speaking.
Depending on how and why a question is asked, it can greatly hinder or greatly help the listening process. For instance, questions that focus on supporting your existing point of view get in the way of listening (for example, “Isn’t distribution the main problem?” or “Couldn’t you have addressed that sooner?”). They’re just statements of what you already think, dressed up with a question mark. This kind of question forces the speaker to respond to your point of view rather than sharing his or her own.
One of the best ways to tell what kind of question you’re about to ask is to listen to the monologue inside your head. A curiosity-based question that focuses on finding out someone’s point of view will tend to come from self-talk like, “Hmm, I wonder what she meant by that?” or “Now, that’s interesting. I’d like to know more.” In contrast, nonlistening questions tend to be preceded by self-talk like, “I don’t agree. I think … ,” or, “I need to set him straight.”
The final skill of listening is the only one that for most people requires a conscious effort to learn. Unlike the first three, restating isn’t something most of us already do. However, it’s an extremely useful skill, particularly when you’re trying to understand complex ideas, gather new information, or show the speaker that you understand him or her: all things good leaders need to do regularly. Restating is simply summarizing, in your own words, the essence of what the speaker has just said:
In your own words
Only when needed
When you briefly restate the essence of the speaker’s message in your own words, you’re far less likely to have such frustrating (and expensive) misunderstandings. When your restatement is accurate, the speaker’s reaction will often be, “Yes, exactly!” It’s very gratifying, as the speaker, to know that the person listening really has understood you. Restating is both a great way to build connection and respect and a wonderfully quick and effective way to find out who people are and what’s important to them.