A Leader Must Look and Listen and Know How to Resolve Conflicts
If you examine the rise of a typical leader, the ability to look and listen decreases as power increases. That's a trend you need to be aware of. At the outset, a future leader often rises out of a group to present a grievance or to offer a new idea or way of doing things. Hands-on experience motivates him (or her), and the group supports his efforts because they recognize a need to be fulfilled.
But leaders at the top are often enmeshed in corporate politics and insulated by immediate aides. The notorious White House bubble that isolates presidents also encloses any leader to lives inside a small circle. Here are some pointers about looking and listening all the way up the ladder.
1. Keep your feedback loop large. Leaders and followers co-create each other. There is constant input and output. If you get input only from your closest circle, you won't be in touch with the whole picture.
2. Stay flexible. It's not hard to detect when a leader wants to hear only praise and support for his own ideas. Be flexible enough to allow your core beliefs to be challenged.
3. Welcome criticism and know our opposition. Leaders who rise high often feel insecure about their position. They are prominent targets for jealousy and attack. So start early on to embrace other points of view, accommodating them when you can and at the very least listening to them and taking them seriously.
4. Be good at giving feedback. No matter what face they put on it, people notice praise and blame. No one is indifferent. Make sure your feedback doesn't demean anyone, and if you are in doubt about hurt feelings, see the person privately. "Are we okay?" isn't enough. Look and listen to their personal reactions.
5. Don't claim a monopoly on the truth. Keep in mind that you do not see the whole picture. This will instill a desire to hear as many perspectives as possible.
6. In any meeting, never lose sight of the central question, "What do these people need?" Never leave the room feeling confused about this. Behind every discussion, somebody needs something.
7. Know the difference between what somebody needs and what they want. We all want more of anything that is available. But most of the time, what we need isn't clear. Ego and emotions stand in the way.
This is such an important point that it deserves being expanded. In relation to a leader, a group of people has individual and collective needs. They tend to overlap, and yet a successful leader tends to both. Sometimes you have to reach down to one person to provide a specific need (e.g., President Lyndon Johnson hated baseball, but he went to every game with a prominent Southern senator because the senator, who chaired a key committee, was a devoted baseball fan).
Most of the time, however, what counts the most is being able to analyze a group’s need.
1. All groups respond to hope. They need to be told that tomorrow will be better.
2. All groups need to be inspired about what they are doing. This is different from offer external motivations like money and raises. Feeling worthy is far more important.
3. All groups need to know that their leader is loyal and supportive. If a leader is just passing through on his way up the ladder, the group responds accordingly. The best leaders take their cohorts with them as they rise to the top.
4. Insecure groups need to be reassured that they are safe. Any threat such as layoffs, salary cuts, losing market share, being bought out, etc. must be addressed. The solution that comes out of the discussion should benefit everyone in the group if possible (as when companies hard hit by the recession lay off no one but instead provide part-time work to everyone).
5. Groups that are doing well competitively need greater challenges. Their motivation is to keep proving themselves.
6. Creative groups need new, innovative ideas. Here the leader functions as a sounding board for any and all suggestions. Suppressing the creativity of any member sends a signal that creativity isn't valued for its own sake. Such an attitude quickly kills the spirit of innovation.
7. All groups need morale. You need to be open and honest about any person or behavior - including our own - that is hurting morale.
As you can see, the so-called born leader isn't what a group needs. They need a leader who presides over a healthy, open, expansive feedback loop.