It’s not the “What” but the “How” (when your approach to leadership damages your leadership)

IMG_0279Most great leaders expend a lot of energy studying the nuances of leadership. We focus on improving our skills, growing in our capacities and becoming more effective as influencers. We are taught to zero in on mission and vision and goal setting. Our coaches stress topics such as authenticity, character and integrity. All of these are great and necessary parts of being a leader.

But there is something more that we may want to consider: How a topic is addressed may be as important as the topic itself.

How you approach and are perceived by the people you lead can make or break your leadership effectiveness. The best leadership strategy in the world can be shipwrecked by a lack of effective communication.

We know what we are thinking. We are sometimes task-driven and we expect everyone to be on the same page. In moments of pressure, we may cut some corners in regard to treating people with dignity and respect. And when this happens, it matters little what your intentions were. How you engage people overshadows what you hope to accomplish with them. Whether or not you intend it to be this way, people will perceive that the task is more important that the team.

How can this happen?

Am I inadvertently sending an unintended message?

Am I accidentally sabotaging organizational progress?

In what ways may a leader push the “how” rather than the “what”?

  • Disengaging from conversations before they are finished. A lack of patience is obvious to people and it sends a message – one that speak very loudly.
  • Allowing the emotions of the moment to drive the conversation. A raised voice, swear words, threats…these have no place in a mutually respectful leadership setting.
  • A cold shoulder. The silent treatment is for Jr. High. Professionals don’t behave in such immature ways.
  • Misleading followers. Your word is your most valuable asset. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Verbal game-playing destroys trust.
  • Practice what you preach. When you make a commitment to a team member or colleague, please fulfill it.
  • Building people up just to let them down. A common strategy for leaders who have to censure someone is to “sandwich” praise/rebuke/praise. While this may work with children, most adults simply want to know the truth. If you choose this method, expect people to think you are disingenuous.
  • Communicate only when you need something. I attempted to connect with a colleague for some time. He ignored me until he started consulting and needing clients. I then heard from him quite often. Message sent and received.
  • Using the wrong pronouns. Lewis B. Ergen said, “The ratio of We’s to I’s is the best indicator of the development of a team. “ If it’s always I, the how crushes the what.
  • Sitting behind a desk rather than sitting at a table. It may not seem like a big deal but people may interpret the barrier of furniture as protection or insulation. Even if they don’t, sitting at a table or in side chairs communicates togetherness and equality. Don’t derail your leadership by unintentionally communicating aloofness or, even worse, arrogance. I don’t want a desk to hide behind; I want a table to share.

These and many others are examples of how leaders can limit their effectiveness by getting the “how” wrong. When this happens, the “what” is never realized.

Let’s work as much on the “how” as we do the “what.” Our relationships will improve, our constituents will trust us more, and we will be more effective leaders.

Agree? What would you add to the list?

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