Friday, April 4, 2008

People Skills

In survey after survey, interpersonal communication skills are consistently ranked at or near the top of a list of skills necessary for career success. People who possess these people skills enjoy a richer personal life, better relationships at work, and more productive interactions with those around them.

Teams with members who excel at people skills are more productive and more cohesive. No one is born with these people skills. They are the result of attention and practice. Here are five guaranteed ways to hone your people skills.

1. Recognize differences in people and be ready to adapt.

Because we think of ourselves as operating within a norm, we tend to see people who act and communicate differently from us as deviating from the norm. As a result, we believe that one communication style (ours) should fit all. Overcome this limiting mindset by recognizing differences in preferences and motivations among people.

If it's all about communicating you say, why do we need all the distinctions? You don't use a rolling pin to chop vegetables and you don't use a chef's knife to roll out bread dough, even though it's all cooking. You have to choose the right tool for the right job.

For example, a fundamental principle of adult learning theory is that we have different preferences for acquiring knowledge. Depending on those preferences, we'll be more effective in communicating our message when we learn whether to emphasize visual, verbal, or tactile approaches.

People also have different motivations. Anne may be motivated by the promise of a salary increase while David strives for peer recognition. Discovering and applying the right motivation will help you get the cooperation you need from others.

2. Learn to listen well.

When people compliment someone on being a great communicator, they often mean that the person is a good listener. Although most of us will have had at least one, if not several courses on reading, writing, and speaking during our years of formal education, have you ever taken a listening course? We spend more time listening than in any other communication activity. In fact, given how much time we spend listening, it's neglect is surprising.

A major problem with listening occurs when we approach an interaction with different goals. I may be listening to gather information and solve a problem while my partner wants me to listen so that I empathize with his or her feelings. If I'm focused on generating solutions when my partner is looking for support, I'll be perceived to be "not listening" or unsympathetic to my partner's point of view.

Sometimes, what you see as a simple yes or no question designed to elicit information will be interpreted as a criticism of the other person. Don't become frustrated when your question is met with more information than you expected. It's probably designed to establish a context for the answer and explain the behavior that your partner thought you criticized.

To improve your listening skills, you'll need to develop genuine interest in your partner. Demonstrate your interest by seizing opportunities to ask questions. Search for common ground and be open to the possibility that you'll learn something new. There is a wise old saying that we were born with two ears but only one mouth so we could listen twice as much as we talk.

3. Realize that communication is more than just the words we use.

We take communication for granted because we do it so frequently, but it's actually a complex process. While we are all wired with the same hardware (brain), the software (interpretive framework) varies tremendously among individuals. This means that given the same input (behaviors or words), we will reach different conclusions based on how we process that data. There are three aspects involved:

What you mean to say
How you code this thought into language that gets verbalized
How people interpret what you say

Consequently, there is often a tremendous difference between what you say and what someone hears. Here are two examples:

Meant: "I know this is a big project, so I should chip in and pull my weight."
Said: "I'd like to offer my help on the project."
Heard: "You're not doing this right, so I'd better become involved."

Meant: "I'm very busy with all the projects I've been assigned."
Said: "I'll get to your task as soon as I can."
Heard: "Your task isn't as important to me as the other things I'm doing."

Be sensitive to the non-verbal clues of your partner and explain statements that seem puzzling or critical.

4. Learn to manage conflict rather than avoid it.

We often think of conflict as something to be avoided at all costs. However, conflict is a natural part of human interaction. Sometimes, in an effort to avoid conflict, important information isn't communicated. Avoidance is only one strategy among many. When an issue is very important to someone else, but of little consequence to you, consider accommodating the person.

Managed properly, conflict can actually be beneficial. For example, conflict provides a method to weed out faulty assumptions and premises. Make a clear distinction between a conflict with a person and that person's ideas. Show respect for the person even when you disagree with the ideas. Learn to manage conflict with the appropriate strategy rather than simply to avoid it.

5. Be known for positive rather than negative interactions.

This doesn't mean you have to be an optimist on steroids. An over-the-top optimist never recognizes a problem exists. A pessimist never realizes a solution exists. When you consistently maintain a positive frame of mind, you'll become known as a problem-solver rather than a complainer. People avoid complainers. They seek out problem-solvers.

A great way to demonstrate a positive outlook is in your language. When someone thanks you, do you ever respond with the phrase "No problem" or "Not a problem"? If so, you are marking the interaction by two negative words. Turn those negatives into positives by responding "I'm glad to help" or "It was my pleasure."


Developing excellent people skills requires recognition of differences, listening, an awareness of the different aspects of communication, strategies for managing conflict and an optimistic outlook. You can improve your people skills. Remember, an individual's interpersonal style is not just "who he or she is." It is who he or she chooses to be.

By Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Loyalty Effect

Frederick F. Reichheld, contributor to the Harvard Business Review and author of several books, defines The Loyalty Effect as "The full range of economic and human benefits that accrue to leaders who treat their customers, operators, and employees in a manner worthy of their loyalty."

Reichheld's premise about loyalty might seem obvious at first. Of course loyalty is important for business success. But studies have shown that loyalty, in fact, is a concept many companies might be able to talk about, but can rarely develop in their customers and employees.

Truett Cathy, legendary founder of the wildly successful Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, has taken the development of loyalty to an art form. In fact, Chick-fil-A fosters so much loyalty among its customers and operators, that Reichheld wrote, "I can't imagine a serious discussion of loyalty in business that does not reference the Cathy family and their accomplishments.

Why? Because Chick-fil-A has succeeded by designing its entire business system around customer loyalty; because Truett Cathy recognizes that a company earns customers' loyalty by consistently delivering superior value; because Chick-fil-A has created a degree of loyalty among its customers, employees, and restaurant franchise Operators that I had never imagined possible . . ."

Cathy himself writes, "The more we can foster the feeling that we are a group of people working together, depending on each other, and not just bound by a franchise agreement, the more likely we are to be loyal to each other. In our case . . . the extra measure of trust has brought us the success we enjoy today."

Imagine that! A company whose "secret sauce," "crown jewels," or "proprietary advantage" is the way it treats people! Ideas like that almost sound, well, out of date. Can it really be that simple?

One of the most important things to understand in the world of leadership is that principles never change. There is no such thing as an "out-of-date" principle. Absolutes are never trendy. The longer I live, the more I am convinced of the truth of the saying, "Methods are many, principles are few, methods always change, but principles never do." Loyalty as a business strategy sounds both obvious and out-of-date at the same time. I find that interesting.

But what I have witnessed in my own life shows the wisdom of Cathy and Reichheld. Wherever loyalty has been earned and developed, great things happen. Wherever it is demanded or compelled, bad things happen. Personally, I appreciate the people who have taken the time to earn my trust, make deposits in my life, and add value to me as an individual. They have earned my loyalty. I am also thankful for all the people in my life who have shown me loyalty. It is encouraging, but also comes with massive responsibility. I would never want to let them down!

As leaders, I think we would do well to duplicate the example of Truett Cathy and the culture he has built at Chick-fil-A. Whether our leadership is in the home, at work, in a business of our own, at church, or in our community, we should build loyalty in all that we do.

This brings up an interesting question for discussion: in what ways can we as leaders "build loyalty?" How, exactly, does that get accomplished? I look forward to your input!

By Chris Brady

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Listening: A Lost Art

We all take talking for granted. Though you may occasionally feel your hands grow cold before giving a speech, you often talk without recognizing the simultaneous changes that occur in your body.

Research shows that while we speak with our words, we also speak with every fiber of our being. This ‘language of the heart’ is integral to the health and emotional life of all of us.

Blood pressure and heart rate elevates every time you speak, even when discussing the most neutral topic. Even those who speak through signing have the same results.

For people who are hypertensive, the rise caused by talking was much greater than for healthy people, and often well into the danger zone. How do hypertensive people handle this? After all, most do not drop dead during social encounters. Other studies show that they subconsciously maintain distance in their relationships and minimize what can be for them ‘lethal dialogues’.

What makes the cardiovascular system of hypertensive’s so vulnerable to verbal communication? Though the hypertensive’s studied were outwardly calm, many tended to talk intensely and breathlessly, interrupting and speaking over other people. This kind of speech is typical of Type – A behavior, an impulsive, hard driving life style linked to increased risk of heart disease.

Most normal talk is a seesaw. The rising of blood pressure when one talks is balanced by a rapid lowering of pressure when one listens. But the rhythm is out of sync in hypertensive’s. They frequently fail to listen; they are on guard, defensive. So their pressure stays up.

Learning to calmly listen to another person helps lower blood pressure. By learning to listen more, by breathing regularly while talking, and paying attention to what the other person is saying, you can learn to lower your blood pressure.

Since so few people genuinely attend to others, those who will learn to draw out the other person can be guaranteed all the friendships they can handle and can be assured of deepening the relationships they presently own.

Why are so many of us poor listeners? Much of our listening education was in the form of: be quiet, listen and pay attention. Most of the people in our society are passive listeners, geared to react on trigger words and to shut out tedium.

Time spend learning in school:
40% learning how to read
35% learning how to write
25% learning how to talk
1% learning how to listen or communicate

We can learn to be good listeners with some work and practice. The rewards can be great.

1. Know when you are not listening.

Check yourself by asking silently: "Can I repeat, rephrase or clarify what has just been said?” If you can’t, the sound may be on but the replay is broken.

2. Know why you are not listening.

As you define your excuses for not listening you will systematically eradicate the ‘watching someone talk’ syndrome. Check the following common reasons for not listening and begin to take silent control of the communication.

* We hear only what we want to hear.
* We consider the topic or information unimportant.
* We jump to conclusions
* Too many other problems on our minds.
* Radical departure from our own thinking.
* Waiting for our turn to talk.

3. Avoid judgments.

Nearly all the reasons for not listening focus on our own ego and our inability to grant equal attention to another person. As soon as the person speaking is elevated to a pinnacle of importance, the active listening process begins and we weigh each thought mightily as if our lives depended on a total recitation of the prior narrative. As you fine tune your listening skills avoid listening only when you deem the speaker worthy of hearing.

4. Match your thought process to the speaker’s words.

We think and hear about 1.000 words per minute. The average speaking speed is 125 words per minute. What then do we do with the time lapse? Human nature combats the problem with anything from boredom to rudeness. Good listeners use the time to clarify, validate and reiterate the conversation topic in their mind. Listen for ideas and emotions rather than facts. Fact listening is defensive. Emotion listening is offensive. Idea listening is progressive.

5. Know thyself.

Do words like difficult, stupid, revolutionary, or assignments shut off your listening process? Does a reference to love, food or fun cause your ears to perk and your antenna to turn in? Understand where your hot and cold buttons are and adjust your listening process to circumvent any sudden shut down because of an emotion laden word or phrase. (This seems to me to be what happens with communication with husbands and wives. We allow too many words to become hot or cold buttons and therefore we render ourselves unable to really communicate)

6. Conversation always moves from agreement to disagreement and then stops.

Listeners who are involved in two way conversation and are prepared to repeat and clarify information will immediately direct the conversation back to agreement and then reach an understanding.

7. Keep alert.

Listening shuts down when both apathy and anxiety set in. Strive for enthusiasm in listening. Communicate with you body; lean forward, smile, nod, become involved by maintaining direct eye contact. If you are on the telephone; stand up, walk. The more attentive and alert, the better you listen.

Listening is an acquired skill that is critically important to success in life. Adults spend about 75% of each day in verbal communication; 45% of this time is spent listening. Persons in a business or social situation who do not have good listening skills are ineffective. Mistakes due to poor listening skills cost organizations thousands of dollars each year.

Listening to another is the highest form of building personal self esteem. For only when we feel good about ourselves and the world around us do we go beyond ‘waiting for our turn to talk’ or ‘watching someone else talk’ to ‘passionate’ listening that elevates us to pinnacles of thought and action separates us from animals making noise.

Listening attentively to another is to pay the highest compliment to them. You do not have to be witty to be a good conversationalist; you simply have to know how to listen. The secret of being interesting is to be interested in the other person. Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves. But don’t be the silent partner in the conversation. Silence can be described as negative feedback. Like a failed monitoring system on a moon rocket, it tells you something is wrong, but it doesn’t go very far toward telling you what.

Conversation with your friends will indeed get sparse if you restrict yourselves to facts, but when you talk about your feelings there will always be plenty to discuss. It’s amazing the way a man listens to you. When you talk to him he looks you squarely in the eye. He seems to shut out all other interests and hang on every word you utter. It is flattering to have someone give you that much of his attention. The eye lock is a powerful magnet for making contact with people. Look people squarely in the eye it is one of the surest indicators that you are interested in the other person.

Be careful not to give advice too quickly. Often people ask for advice when what they really want is for someone to listen to them. By listening to them you help them get the problem outside of themselves and on the table between you, the issues become clear and they are able to arrive at their own decision.

When people confide in you they are often afraid they have said too much. They will be watching you to see if you raise your brows or appear to have lost confidence in them. It is important to allay those fears by not over-reacting to what has been said. To put them at ease, compliment them on being able to share with you. By all means don’t reveal anyone’s private matters. When you tell something told to you in confidence you identify yourself as an untrustworthy confidant. So the way to be a confidant is to let no one know that you are a confidant to others.

Seek first to understand and then to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand: they listen with the intent to reply. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigm, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.

From The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Seven Secrets of Leadership Success

Fortune magazine once published an article entitled “The Best Advice I Ever Got.” It was a great article that offered wit and wisdom about achieving business success. I liked it so much, that it motivated me to produce my newest book, Leadership: Best Advice I Ever Got, which describes the best leadership advice 136 successful CEOs, coaches, consultants, professors, managers, executives, presidents, politicians, and religious leaders received that most helped them become effective and successful leaders.

Here are seven secrets to leadership success:

1. Leadership is about making things happen.

If you want to make something happen with your life – in school, in your profession or in your community, do it. Perceived obstacles crumble against persistent desire. John Baldoni, Author, Leadership Communication Consultant and Founder of Baldoni Consulting LLC, shared this advice that had come from his father, a physician. He taught him the value of persistence. At the same time, his mother taught him compassion for others. Therefore, persistence for your cause should not be gained at the expense of others. Another bit of leadership wisdom!

2. Listen and understand the issue, then lead.

Time and time again we have all been told, "God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason"... or as Stephen Covey said, "Seek to understand, rather than be understood." As a leader, listening first to the issue, then trying to coach, has been the most valuable advice that Cordia Harrington, President and CEO of Tennessee Bun Company has been given.

3. Answer the three questions everyone within your organization wants answers to.

What the people of an organization want from their leader are answers to the following: Where are we going? How are we going to get there? What is my role? Kevin Nolan, President & Chief Executive Officer of Affinity Health Systems, Inc. believes the more clarity that can be added to each of the three questions, the better the result.

4. Master the goals that will allow you to work anywhere in today’s dynamic business world.

Debbe Kennedy, President, CEO and Founder of Global Dialogue Center and Leadership Solutions Companies, and author of Action Dialogues and Breakthrough once shared this piece of advice that was instrumental in shaping her direction, future and achievements.

She was a young manager at IBM just promoted to her first staff assignment in a regional marketing office. For reasons she can’t explain, one of her colleagues named Bookie called her into his office while she was visiting his location. He then began to offer unsolicited advice, but advice that now stays fresh in her mind. He mentioned that jobs, missions, titles and organizations would come and go as business is dynamic - meaning it is always changing. He advised her not to focus your goals toward any of these, but instead learn to master the skills that will allow you to work anywhere.

He was talking about four skills:

The ability to develop an idea;
Effectively plan for its implementation;
Execute second-to-none;
Achieve superior results time after time.

With this in mind, Kennedy advises readers to seek jobs and opportunities with this in mind. Forget what others do. Work to be known for delivering excellence. It speaks for itself and it opens doors.

5. Be curious.

Curiosity is a prerequisite to continuous improvement and even excellence. The person who gave Mary Jean Thornton, Former Executive Vice President & CIO, The Travelers, this advice urged her to study people, processes, and structures. He inspired her to be intellectually curious. He often reminded Thornton that making progress, in part, was based upon thinking. She has learned to apply this notion of intellectual curiosity by thinking about her organization’s future, understanding the present, and knowing and challenging herself to creatively move the people and the organization closer to its vision.

6. Listen to both sides of the argument.

The most valuable advice Brian P. Lees, Massachusetts State Senator and Senate Minority Leader, ever received came from his mentor, United States Senator Edward W. Brooke III. He told him to listen to all different kinds of people and ideas. Listening only to those who share your background and opinions can be imprudent. It is important to respect your neighbors’ rights to their own views. Listening to and talking with a variety of people, from professors to police officers, from senior citizens to school children, is essential not only to be a good leader in business, but to also be a valuable member within your community.

7. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail. If one has truly prepared and something goes wrong the strength of the rest of what you've prepared for usually makes this something easier to handle without crisis and panic. One of the best pieces of advice Dave Hixson, Men’s Varsity Basketball Coach at Amherst College has ever received and continues to use and pass on is this anonymous quote -“Preparation is the science of winning."

Along with this are two expressions from Rick Pitino's book Success is a Choice, which speaks to preparation. Hixson asks his teams every year: "Do you deserve to win?" and "Have you done the work?" This speaks to the importance of preparation toward achieving your final goal. If you haven't done the work (the preparation) the answer to the second question is an easy "no!"

Great advice comes from many sources – parents, other relatives, consultants, bosses, co-workers, mentors, teachers, coaches, and friends. The important point to remember is to stay open, listen to everyone, but also develop your own leadership style.

by Paul B. Thornton

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Great Leader is a Great Follower

"The world needs transcendent leaders whose eyes we trust, whose heart we know, whose soul is rampant in all that they do" - Robert Rabbin.

What does it really take to be a great leader?

As an Executive and Business Coach, I ask my clients this question when setting leadership goals. One of the first steps in achieving success in leadership is creating a vision of what a great leader means for you. This vision, along with a plan, continuous action, courage and commitment create some of the "greatest" leaders.

Many of these great leaders "follow in the footsteps of other great leaders and use coaching to reach their leadership goals. Why? Because coaching is a powerful tool that involves lifting a person's vision to higher sights, raising their performance to a higher standard, and building a personality beyond its normal limitations to its full potential.

So as you set off on your quest to becoming a great leader, here are two steps you may want to "follow".

1. Develop "Double vision" - Great leaders have a "vision" of what being a great leader means for them. They know what it looks like and feel like and they act accordingly by practicing good leadership skills. It also means having "vision" In this case I mean the ability to talk about the future as if it were already here. Steve Jobs often does this. He creates a clear picture in people's minds of how a new product will change the world -- before it's even launched. He gets people excited about the future he sees in his mind. That's an innate talent. Stepping out on a limb like that comes much more naturally to some people than to others. The good news is, if you haven't got that skill, you can develop it!- It's not so much about your own technical expertise as it is about inspiring other people to be better at what they.

2. Become a great follower. Along with the skill of vision and leading comes the skill of "ability to follow". What I mean by this is the ability to identify and follow the patterns of success within your organization-follow the footsteps of others who are "great leaders".

Here is what other great minds say about this concept.

In "Reinventing Leadership", Warren Bennis wrote, "Good leaders should also be good followers. If you're coming up within an organization, you must be a good follower or you're not going to get very far. Leaders and followers share certain characteristics such as listening, collaborating, and working out competitive issues with peers."

In "Launching a Leadership Revolution", Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward, stress the importance of becoming a Performer in leadership development-the need to create a record of performance. "You need to become a great follower, a great contributor."

According to Brady and Woodward, the quickest way of gaining a track record of performance is to master the patterns of success already established in your organization.

Thus, the goal of every leader is to become a "Performer" who successfully works with and master the existing patterns of success within the organization.

As a successful "Performer" you have the knowledge and expertise to help others accomplish similar results. You gain recognition, respect and power in the organization. You have influence, another key ingredient to successful leadership.

Sam Rayburn says it all in this wonderful quote: "You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too."

By Carol Giannantonio as posted on

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Temptation to Remove Freedom

One thing that is a common temptation for leaders is to lose patience with higher-level forms of influence and instead resort to an authoritarian style. After all, isn't it easier to bark out orders and make demands, flexing one's "authority" muscles and showing subordinates your "stripes?" I ran across a great paragraph by author Dan B. Allender in his excellent book Leading with a Limp:

"The temptation for all leaders is to encroach on human freedom and take away the suffering of humanity through some form of authoritarian order. Indulging this temptation underlies the fascism of all utopias. Removing human freedom is done with sincerity and the desire to serve the forsaken and bent brood of humanity. But all of this is a lie. If limiting human freedom tempted Jesus before he began his calling as the Christ, then it will conceivable be an ongoing temptation for all who fall into leadership."

First, one can clearly see where compassionate politicians take a wrong turn. With misplaced compassion, they propose programs and government agendas to relieve the sufferings and hardships of certain peoples, only to end up limiting human freedoms in the process. And it is a short argument to state that government is better at messing things up than they are at executing programs. It is almost a rule that government programs grow and take on an unmanageable growth-life of their own. What may begin sincerely enough as a measure to help others (giving the benefit of the doubt and ignoring the very likely possibility that there is self-serving "vote selling" involved, as well), apparently well-meaning politicians end up actually limiting human freedoms and accomplishing the opposite of what they claim they intended. As Ronald Reagan said, "The scariest words you could ever hear are; I'm from the Government and I'm here to help."

So much for politicians. What about companies? It seems there is always controversy swirling regarding some form of competition among companies: those that cry unfair competition with others, those that want government protection against foreign competition, those that try to monopolize their position in the marketplace instead of having to face the pressures of competition. But all of business life is about competition. Competition is the gymnasium of discomfort from which stronger companies emerge. The history of business in free enterprise societies shows that the society, through its customers, is nearly always better served when competition is allowed to reign freely. Any time it is constrained artifically, or when certain entities are given a "pass" from the rigors of competiton, the customers and society suffer.

Examples are plenty. One such example is the de-regulation of the phone companies. Another is the de-regulation of the airline industry. Another is the market driven "de-regulation" of the software industry through the concept of "open source programs." Each of these de-regulations spawned new days of freedom in those industries, and while change was painful and even fatal for some of the more entrenched and inflexible entities, the result was one of lower prices and better service for customers, and an improved competitive environment for companies that not only made the surviving ones better, but became a breeding ground for a host of new, agile, creative players on the scene.

One of my favorite examples of this is Southwest airlines, which had a competitive new idea and such excellent execution of its idea that the old, stodgy, poor-service, entrenched airlines didn't want to have to compete with the new upstart. Instead, the "big boys" resorted to lawsuits. They determined to utilize the full strength of their corporate financial resources to protect "their territory." Their strategy was that it would be easier to litigate a competitor to death rather than to beat them on the open field of play. Kill them while they were young, so to speak. After over a decade, however, Southwest airlines prevailed (even though a quick reading of the link above will show that companies continue to use courts to gain unfair advantages over competitors). Southwest Airlines not only survived the legal decimation strategy of scared-to-compete competitors, but have become a "big boy" themselves, consistently remaining the most profitable airline on the continent.

So much for companies. What of individuals? This is where I really want to focus. In my experience with leaders, the authoritarian style always appears to me to be the "amatuer approach." This is because, as Dan Allender so aptly points out, it is the easiest and most automatic. Without thinking, someone in a position of authority (and this can even be observed among little children!) most easily sinks to a level of relying upon their position for influence. John Maxwell calls this Positional Leadership. It is the lowest level of influence. "Do this because I have authority over you." And sometimes, the reason given by the leader for such behavior is the level of chaos encountered and the need for "drastic action." Certainly, there is a time for this, but it is rare.

More often, influence of a higher order is called for. I find it interesting that Allender calls this tendency for leaders to slip into authoritarian influence a "temptation." If he is correct, we as leaders should always be on guard against our tendencies for control, and work ever harder to adhere to our purposes of influence and cause.

The Fivel Levels of Influence co-author Orrin Woodward and I discuss in the Launching a Leadership Revolution book, are to serve as a roadmap away from this temptation toward authoritarian leadership. Corporations, small businesses, governments, homes, churches, and community organizations will all be better served by leaders that understand the nature of true influence.

Real leaders have influence because people want to follow them.

Real leaders have influence because others buy into them and their cause.

Real leaders have influence because people get caught up in their vision.

Real leaders have influence because they have character, get results, share the credit, and accept the blame.

I wonder how much better our society would be if our politicians, corporate leaders, and individual leaders at every level of society understood these basic truths?

By Chris Brady

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Great Leaders Are Made, Not Born

Are leaders born or made?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions in all leadership development.

To begin with, let’s start with a definition of "leader." My friend and mentor, Dr. Paul Hersey, defines leadership as “working with and through others to achieve objectives." Given this definition, anyone in a position whose achievement requires the support of others can play the role of a leader.

I love this definition because it supports the philosophy of “leadership at all levels,” which is so critical in today’s world of knowledge workers.

Indeed, millions of people who are currently working with and though others to achieve objectives are already leaders. Whether they think of themselves as leaders and whether they are fantastic leaders or disastrous leaders is another issue.

So can people who are already working to influence others become more effective leaders?
The answer is an unqualified “Yes.”

My partner, Howard Morgan, and I did and
extensive study on leadership development programs involving over 86,000 participants in eight major corporations. Our findings were so conclusive they are almost impossible to dispute. Leaders who participated in a development program, received feedback, selected important areas for improvement, discussed these with co-workers, and followed-up with co-workers on a consistent basis (to check on progress) were rated as becoming dramatically better leaders -- not in a self-assessment, but in the assessment of co-workers -- six to eighteen months after the initial program. Leaders who participated in the same developmental programs -- and received the same type of feedback -- but did no follow-up were seen as improving no more than random chance.

Here are some specific suggestions to increase your leadership effectiveness:

1. Get feedback on your present level of effectiveness -- as judged by associates/co-workers that you respect.

2. Pick the most important behaviors for change -- those you believe will enhance your effectiveness as a leader (i.e., “become a more effective listener” or “make decisions in a timely manner”).

3. Periodically ask co-workers for suggestions on how you can do an even better job in your selected behaviors for change.

4. Listen to their ideas (don’t promise to change everything) and make the changes that you believe will further increase your effectiveness.

5. Follow-up and measure change in effectiveness over time.

Are leaders born or made? If you are working with and through others to achieve objectives, you are already a leader. Can you become
a more effective leader? Definitely.

Posted at Harvard Business by Marshall Goldsmith