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Leading With Communication

You won’t find too many excellent leaders who are poor communicators. Some are better than others when presenting in front of large groups and some are better in one-on-one situations but overall, excellent leadership requires effective communication.

Effective communication means speaking in such a way that what you’re saying is crystal clear, easy to understand and hard to forget. Truly effective communicators accept 100% responsibility for the clarity of their message. They don’t blame others for misunderstandings.

Just so we’re all on the same page here I want to make it clear that I’m talking about face-to-face communication. The verbal kind, you know, like speaking with people.

Some leaders believe they can use technology as a substitute for personal communication. They blog, use their organization’s intranet, newsletters, etc. That’s all good because it helps support a message and sometimes repetition is required. But it’s a mistake to think those tools will ever take the place of face-to-face personal communication. 

There is no media that can communicate a leader’s intensity and passion as well as personal, human contact. When a leader exits the relatively safe confines of their office to personally speak with members of their team it automatically adds weight to whatever it is they are saying.

Leaders who are good communicators speak with absolute clarity, they limit the use of buzzwords, jargon and corporate-speak. Their actions match their words, if they say they will do it, then they do it. That consistency adds significance to every statement they make.

It is important for a leader to be an effective communicator when speaking to large groups but it’s vital for leaders to be effective when speaking one-on-one.

So, excellent leaders speak well but….Authentic Servant Leaders speak well AND listen well. They know that speaking is only part of communicating; effective communication is a two-way street and if you never stop to listen you are not communicating well, no matter how good of a speaker you might be. 

Most people merely listen to respond, Authentic Servant Leaders listen to understand. They linger on the words being spoken until they understand the intent of the speaker. If they are not certain they fully understand what was said they ask for clarification. They don’t guess and they don’t assume, they ask.

The very best communicators are incredible listeners. It seems that by truly, completely listening to what other people are saying they always know just what to say in return and exactly how to say it. 

Perhaps the true secret to speaking well is listening even better!

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Authentic or Effective Leadership?

Trust! It is a vital element of leadership, at least Authentic Servant Leadership. I suppose an effective leader can get away with a lack of trust, but the leadership of someone who is merely effective is limited.

If you’re wondering about the difference between an effective leader and an Authentic Servant Leader here is my take on it: an effective leader can influence people to take action, they can chart a course for their people and the can make a difference in the lives of those they lead… it may not be a positive difference but it will be a difference.

An effective leader can even build other leaders but it’s very unlikely that an effective leader will ever develop an Authentic Servant Leader.

On the other hand an Authentic Servant Leader can do everything an effective leader can do and so much more. They are far more likely to develop other, future leaders. The leaders they develop will be much more likely to be Authentic Servant Leaders one day. Authentic Servant Leaders create a culture where people care, a culture where everyone matters and a culture where people values are every bit as important as performance values.

Now, this post was supposed to be all about trust but since I’ve gotten off on this tangent I’m going to keep going. I guess “trust” will be my next post.

If you’re questioning whether your leader is merely effective or an Authentic Servant leader then maybe this next batch of words will help clarify that for you.

Somehow people have it in their heads that “authentic” means perfect. Nope, that’s not at all what it means. It means “conforming to fact and therefore worthy of belief” or “not counterfeit or copied.”

Authentic Leaders are genuine, the real deal. They lead, they make good things happen. The real difference comes when we add the word “servant.” A servant is described as a “person working in the service of another.”

If the individual leading you has your best interests in mind then it is very likely that they are a servant leader. If they can combine that with great judgcernment, (the vital combination of judgment and discernment) a willingness to make decisions, even when risk is attached, a vivid, forward looking vision and the ability to apply their emotions in a positive fashion then they may well be an Authentic Servant Leader.

Here’s something else you need to know about Authentic Servant Leaders: you may not always agree with them. They may have one idea about what’s in your best interests while you have something different in mind. They may ask you to do things you may not want to do, this happens because they will most often keep in mind that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one… that just means they put the good of the organization above the good of any one individual, even if they are that one individual.

Authentic Servant Leaders make mistakes, they do things at times that they regret later. Why, on their worst days they can even appear to be merely human… just like the rest of us.

“Authentic” doesn’t mean perfect and “servant” doesn’t mean doormat. Authentic Servant Leaders will makes mistakes and they won’t always do what we want them to do. Overall, working for, or even alongside a truly Authentic Servant Leader is a life-building experience, if you’ll simply let it be.

Do yourself a favor and let it be.

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How Much Does Good Judgment Matter?

Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis are both well known business authors and both are considered experts on the topic of leadership. They also both agree that a leader’s most important role, regardless of the organization, is making good judgments. They define good judgments as well-informed, wise decisions that produce the desired outcomes. They say that when a leader shows consistently good judgment, little else matters.

They also have this in common: they are mistaken. Seriously mistaken. They are mistaken because lots of other stuff matters, lots and lots of other stuff.

Clearly good judgment is vital for all leaders. If we’re talking solely about effective leadership then I may even put it at the top of my most important leadership characteristics list. However, if we’re talking about Authentic Servant Leadership then many other characteristics come into play and they are equally as important as good judgment.

Let me attempt to struggle once again with the difference between effective leadership and truly Authentic Servant Leadership.

Think of it like this: effective leadership can settle for the good of the one over the good of the many. Authentic Servant Leadership will consistently, willingly, sacrifice the good of the one for the good of the many, even when they are personally the “one.”

If that’s an accurate description of the difference, or at least a difference, between “effective” and “authentic” leadership and I believe that it is, that makes effective leadership a whole lot easier than authentic leadership.

There is just a lot less to be concerned about. There are less “inputs” to consider when a merely effective leader is making a judgment.

So if Tichy and Bennis are talking about only effective leadership they could have a point. But merely effective leaders are limited in their ability to earn the commitment of their people. That limitation lessons their influence and prevents them from ever achieving a Level Five Leadership Status.

Authentic Servant Leaders must have integrity and they must care about their people. They celebrate the success of others before their own. They don’t spend time on their people, they invest time with their people. Authentic Servant Leaders don’t just build a strong following, they build strong leaders. Yes, they have outstanding judgment but they know that there are very few things that “matter little” and many things that matter a lot in leadership.

Here’s where I can agree with both Tichy and Bennis: they say when a leader consistently shows poor judgment, nothing else matters. I believe that is mostly true. It’s true because you can care for people, you can have boatloads of integrity, and you can genuinely love it when other people succeed but if your judgment is always lacking, you may be a wonderful person but you won’t be a leader for long.

So judgment matters, it really really matters. To say that little else matters however is to diminish the legacy of many of the greatest leaders who ever lived. Judgment is a critical component of leadership, but it’s not the only one, it’s only one of many.

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The Vital Importance of Conflict Resolution

I am not a fan of conflict. I’d prefer to have zero conflicts in my life, both my personal life and my professional life.

My preference however is unrealistic because conflicts are a part of life. They happen! As a matter of fact, if you have a pulse and interact with other human beings then you will have conflicts too.

Some people will go to extreme lengths to avoid conflict. I think they avoid them because they believe all conflicts lead to poor outcomes. They have so little confidence in their own communication skills that they fear losing control of their emotions and making the situation that originally caused the conflict even worse.

That’s a challenging way to go through life for anyone. If you have that challenge and you’re in a leadership position then it’s far more than a challenge, it can be a disaster.

Unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Let me repeat that in case you missed it… unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Directly!

If you’re a leader who avoids conflict then you’re a limited leader at best. You can make great decisions, hire the right people, build solid products, and be liked by everyone. What you can’t do is lead your people and your organization to their full potential.

It’s like seeing $40 on the ground and bending down to pick up $20, hoping that somebody else will pick up the other $20 and put it to use. You just left half of your potential “find” lay there. Hope may sound nice in a speech but I’m sorry to say, it’s a real crappy business strategy.

Leaders cannot simply hope the conflict resolves itself. Conflicts seldom disappear, they just simmer below the surface causing havoc in your organization. If you don’t care enough about your people to proactively, compassionately resolve conflicts then you likely don’t care enough to truly lead.

Conflict resolution is a vital skill that leaders need to learn.

If you view conflict as dangerous, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you go into a conflict situation already feeling threatened, it’s tough to deal with the issue in a healthy and productive way. Instead, you are more likely to shut down or blow up in anger.

Conflict elicits strong emotions and often leads to hurt feelings and disappointment. When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable harm, resentments, and long-lasting distrust. When conflict is resolved in a healthy and productive way, it increases your understanding of the other person, builds trust, and strengthens relationships. This is true in both your personal and professional lives.

Effective leaders possess the capacity to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person. They respond in a calm, non-defensive, and respectful manner. The are ready to forgive and forget if necessary and they are able to move past the conflict without holding on to resentment. Effective leaders know that compromise is not a dirty word and that while accountability may play a role in conflict management, punishing does not.

Authentic servant leaders hold the belief that facing conflict head on is the best thing for both sides. When dealing with conflict they care enough to listen with more than just their ears. They “tune-in” to the other person to completely understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.

When people are upset, the words they use often don’t convey the real issues at the heart of the conflict. When you listen for what is felt—as well as what is said—you have the opportunity to truly understand where the other person is coming from.
When you’re in the middle of a conflict, paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals may help you figure out what the other person is really saying, This lets you to respond in a way that builds trust, and get to the heart of the problem. A calm tone of voice or an interested facial expression can go a long way towards relaxing a tense exchange.

Here are a few more points to consider before attempting to resolve a conflict:

Think resolution rather than winning or “being right.” Remember, if you win then somebody else loses. If somebody feels like they have been defeated then they may withdraw for a while but the conflict still exists.

Focus on the now. If you’re holding on to grudges based on past resentments, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Resolve the current conflict, don’t rehash old ones.

Let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, it is okay to disengage and move on.

I firmly believe the worst thing you can do when it comes to conflict management or hopefully, conflict resolution, is nothing. If you actually intend to lead then you must face this challenge head-on, in a caring and thoughtful way.

It’s how Authentic Servant Leaders deal with conflict!

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Essential Qualities of Leadership

I write from time to time on the essential qualities of leadership. There are so many truly essential qualities required for Effective Leadership that I could write a book on the subject. But until I do, here’s another blog post on just a few of them.

An effective leader absolutely needs the confidence to make decisions and set a clear direction. Effective leaders also know that one of the best ways to instill confidence in others is to display their own confidence. They do not however allow their confidence to cross the line into arrogance. A leader who humbly shows their confidence encourages others to step up and lead.

Effective leaders must be able to think on their feet and make sagacious and quick decisions. One of the biggest “separators” between leaders is the size and range of the “picture” that they see. Lesser leaders see how the next two dominoes will fall, the most effective leaders see how the next 20 will fall. Good decisions come from considering not just the consequences of a decision but the consequences of the consequences. Effective leaders are not afraid to make the tough decisions.

Effective leaders also take responsibility for those decisions and actions. Mistakes are a part of life, and effective leaders own their mistakes. They do not blame others, even when there may be some blame to share. They learn from their mistakes and do not allow today’s mistake to hinder tomorrow’s decisions.

Effective leaders experience stress in their lives. It’s just a fact of life as a leader. The reality is that the more effective a leader is, the more stress they are likely to endure. During times of stress, effective leaders remain calm and focused. They know that the people they lead look to them for strength in challenging times.

Effective leaders know that leading by example isn’t just the best way to lead; it’s actually the only way. Leading by example shows followers what is expected of them and what is or is not acceptable. Effective leaders know they are the model for how others are expected to behave and perform.

You’re people are watching you, your role as a leader is to help them see what they need to see in order for them to succeed. Your own success depends on it!

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Do You Talk or Do You Communicate?

Communication is an essential element of leadership.

Authentic Servant Leaders know that talking and actually communicating are two very different things. Talking generally requires only one person but communicating always requires at least two.

As a leader you must know that that no matter how well you choose your words if no one is listening then you’re just talking, not communicating. Talking is about the person saying the words, communicating is about the person or persons hearing them.

Abraham Lincoln was the second speaker on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Lincoln was preceded on the podium by the famed orator Edward Everett, who spoke to the crowd for two hours. Lincoln followed with his now immortal Gettysburg Address.

On November 20, Everett wrote to Lincoln: “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Lincoln used 268 words in barely 2 minutes to express his thoughts on one of the greatest battles of the US Civil War. With 268 words in 2 minutes he motivated a nation to carry on and persevere. His speech that day is often considered to be among the best ever delivered by a US President. Most American kids still learn about it in school.

I’m sure Edward Everett had great things to say that day but he talked, Lincoln communicated.

The next time you’re preparing to speak just stop for a moment and ask yourself this question: is what I’m about to say for my benefit or the benefit of the person I’m speaking with? If what you’re about to say is solely for your benefit then it’s likely your talking, not communicating.

Great communicators talk with other people, not to them. Great communicators don’t count their words, they weigh them. I have no way of knowing this for sure but I’d bet my last dollar that President Lincoln had no idea how many words he spoke during the Gettysburg Address, but he knew with certainty what he wanted to say and what his audience needed to hear.

He choose his words accordingly. You should too!

Why Leadership Really Matters

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Top performing, passionate people still need direction, focus and a purpose. The most common source for those three prerequisites for success is an effective leader. Without effective leadership even top performers lose the motivation the use their skills and abilities.

They can get simple direction from a manager, they can even be somewhat forced to focus but their purpose becomes clear only when there is a vision to work towards. Vision casting is a prime responsibility of an effective leader.

People will put forth effort for mere money… for a while. Money alone however has proven to be a poor motivator for top performers. People are most productive when they know that they are making a difference. Working towards a vision shows them where and how they can make a difference.

If the vision can’t be articulated by the leader then there might as well not be a vision. If the vision isn’t shared often then that too is nearly as bad as not having a vision at all.

Leaders are role models as well – good or bad. They should not expect to see more effort from their people than they are willing to offer themselves. They should not expect better decisions or more prudent risk-taking than they put forth as leaders.

If you’re in a leadership position then you absolutely MUST know that your people are watching you… always. They watch to see if your words match your actions. (They do what you do, not what you say) They watch to see if you’re committed enough to the vision and if they determine that you’re not then they will not commit to you.

If they cannot commit to you then they will not commit to the vision. People, especially top performing people, commit to a leader before they commit to the leader’s vision.

The energy that makes good people top performers turns on itself without direction, focus and purpose. When that happens top performers go sour, become ineffective and they eventually leave the leader…. or worse, they stay with the leader and simply stop performing.

Leadership matters, it always has and it always will. Without effective leadership even promising top performers will struggle to reach their potential.

If you’re in a leadership position then you not only have the opportunity to lead, you have an obligation to lead. If you can’t or won’t meet that obligation then you owe it to your would be followers, and even to yourself, to step aside and let a real leader take over.