By Joseph Gurreri, Member, Executive Leadership Alliance International
You’ve heard it said: “Great leaders lead,” although if nobody is following, where is the leadership? Authority trumps power in today’s social-media information age. Effective contemporary leaders are attuned to the ‘vibe’ of both the team and customer. Accessing that vibe is not as mystical as it seems: clues abound by approaching ‘listening’ less as an art and more as a skill, which requires practice. Effective listening first requires awareness of the leader’s own communication preferences, which affects their ability to listen, empathize, and respond with the best results.
Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase “Servant Leader” with qualities including: listening, empathy, and persuasion, leading to growth. (http://www.greenleaf.org/whatissl/ ) Acquiring these qualities tend to give a leader ‘authority’ rather than simply ‘power’. The ‘listening’ skill is the locomotive to all these other skills. “Active Listening” is a technique, which appeals to hard driving Type A leaders. There are three primary elements that comprise active listening: comprehending, retaining, and responding. Although a plethora of books abound on the topic, one under represented concept is how personality styles affect a leader’s ability to do these things well. A leader’s personality style significantly affects their comprehending and responding ability. Some must work harder than others, depending upon their audience.
Personality styles drive communication preferences. One can assess styles with indicators such as the MBTI (Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator http://www.myersbriggs.org ) or the lesser known Enneagram Theory (http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/Business.asp ). Each offer insight on the leader’s preferred intake of information, how meetings should ideally be led, and how reports and proposals are prepared. Awareness is the first step toward communication effectiveness, but it doesn’t stop there: the leader must also assess their listeners, so they can appeal to that ‘following’ audience to get the results they’re seeking.
Too often leaders insist their team adapt to the leader’s style without consideration of their team’s communication needs. For example, a leader who had made his mark in sales or marketing is likely to shut down a team comprised of analysts, without sensitivity to some common style characteristics. Understanding one’s own preferences is the first step toward meeting the audience at their ideal following point. After listening is mastered, then empathy, persuasion, and growth follow… along with your teams.