Archive for July 2015

What Do You Think . . . How has your personality impacted your leadership?  

We are each unique individuals with different personality characteristics. One of the primary temperament scales we use to assess this is the introverted/extroverted scale, and each of these types brings value to leadership. I know that I have more introverted tendencies, and I also know how those tendencies influence my style of leadership. What about you? What is your personality type, and how does that affect your leadership? Please share in the comment box below.

                                  

 

Quiet, by Susan Cain

Quiet, Cain, coverIn the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain begins by describing the culture change in America from what was once a culture of character – valuing private character and inner virtue that produced a disciplined and honorable public conduct – to a culture of personality – valuing performance, outer charm, and public perception. The result has been that charismatic leadership (or, an extroverted style) has become viewed as more necessary for success. Cain draws attention to the fact that this assumption is a myth, and spends the remainder of the book differentiating between introversion and extroversion, explaining how they are each reflected in leadership.

Over the course of the book, Cain identifies some of the different attributes and characteristics of introversion and extroversion, and then makes connections between those characteristics and work tendencies. For example, because introverts prefer to work independently, they are more likely to creatively innovate if they are given periods of solitude, as opposed to being pressured to innovate in a brainstorming team session. Elsewhere she explains that extroverts are more likely to be motivated by rewards, and therefore will be more action-driven, while introverts are more likely to be motivated by intrinsic satisfaction, and therefore will be more reflective; therefore teams and individuals that include both extroverted and introverted tendencies need to find a balance between action and reflection. These serve as a couple of examples of the several ways that Cain illustrates how each temperament functions in the context of organizations and leadership, and how those differences can be utilized to the greatest benefit.

Because I have an introverted personality type, I enjoyed the insights and information that put into words much of what describes my leadership tendencies, and found it to be very affirming. In particular, the last couple of chapters (one on communication and the other on learning to navigate an extroverted culture) were most helpful for me on a practical level. However, there seemed to be heavy emphasis and discussion on a scientifically evolutionary and deterministic view on human nature, and so, while I appreciated her insights into the nature of human behavior and personality, as Christian who believes the Bible to be true, I differ in my belief of the origin of our natures and instead see the beauty in how God created individuality.

That being said, Cain’s book provides valuable information on the outworking of these personalities and how they can be best utilized, therefore I think it is a valuable book for helping leaders to work well with both extroverts and introverts.

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Broadway Books: New York, NY.

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Week of July 13, 2015

Quotable (Jeff McMaster, on becoming a better listener)

“Learn to listen with your eyes by observing, learn to listen with your mouth by rephrasing and asking questions, and learn to listen with your ears by setting aside your own interests and hearing the meaning of others’ words. Be a better listener and you will be a better leader.”

 

Dr. Jeffrey S. McMaster, Be a Better Listener

Be a Better Listener

In the New York Times Best Seller The Art of Racing in the Rain (2008), author Garth Stein tells a fictional story of the life of a race car driver, Denny, as seen through the eyes of his dog, Enzo. At one particular point in the story, when Denny is experiencing great difficulty, Enzo shares this thought: “I listen. I cannot speak, so I listen very well. I never interrupt. I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another’s conversations constantly. It’s like having a passenger in your car who suddenly grabs the steering wheel and turns you down a side street.” (p. 101). Remarkable insight from a dog, but so often it is true.

I would guess that most people understand communication is two-way street, involving both talking and listening, but I would also guess that most people do far more talking than listening. Unlike Enzo, we don’t do such a good job of listening, and at those times when we do appear to be listening, we are probably guiltier of thinking about what we are going to say next than thinking about what the other person is saying. The unfortunate result is that we do not communicate well, our relationships suffer, and we are not as effective as leaders.

One of the skills, then, that is necessary for effective leadership (and for healthy relationships) is the ability to listen well. In short, we need to be good listeners. In an article published on LinkedIn on February 2, 2015, called “Best Advice: Listen More than You Talk,” Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, echoed this truth when he wrote that one of the “best and most simple pieces of advice” he ever received came from his father: “listen more than you talk.”

Learning to listen well, though, requires effort, because it involves much more than simply hearing the words that the other person is saying. It involves understanding the idea and intent, the meaning, of what the other person is communicating. Usually, however, the problem we have is that our own tendency toward selfishness and our own perceptions and experiences interfere with our ability to hear what the other person is communicating, therefore we have to become intentional about learning to listen, and this means much more than just listening with our ears.

I realize this may sound a little odd, but one way in which listening happens is with your eyes. In reality, people do a lot of communicating with facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language, and so the implication is that much of what you hear people say comes from what you see. For that reason, you need to become very intentional about looking around and observing as part of your listening process. When you are face-to-face with someone, engaged in dialogue, you must consciously become aware of what they are saying with nonverbal cues, thereby more clearly hearing what they are trying to communicate; however, I would suggest you also need to do the same when you are observing from a distance, when you are not directly interacting, but instead are watching or noticing the behavior and actions of those around you. Your understanding will improve if you take time to look around and listen to what you see.

The caution here, though, is that if you are not careful, it is quite easy to only see what you are looking for, and to not see what you are not looking for. On the one hand, if we don’t acknowledge and avoid a preconceived perception about what think we will see when we look, then we will tend to only see those things that reinforce that perception, therefore confirming our belief that it is true, even if it is not. On the other hand, we also tend to miss a lot of what is right in front of us, primarily because we are not looking for it, and therefore will not see important clues and information that we need to see. The conclusion, then, is that we must intentionally set aside our perceptions, and must put in conscious effort to see things that we are not looking for, in order to become more effective in our leadership.

A second way in which listening happenings is with your mouth. This does not happen in the same way that you listen with your eyes, because your mouth does not generally take in information to enhance your understanding in the way that your eyes do (to state the obvious). What your mouth does, however, is provide feedback and response that reflects your listening. Your mouth is the vehicle through which you mirror what you hear, and so it communicates how you are listening.

How, then, does this happen? Primarily two ways: rephrasing, and asking questions. First, as you listen to someone speak (or as you observe activity, behavior, and responses), you need to give back a rephrasing of what you think you hear (and see). This communicates that you are trying to listen, but it also gives you the opportunity to validate and refine what you think you hear, by giving and then receiving additional feedback. Second, ask open-ended and clarifying questions that help you to have a deeper and more accurate understanding of what you hear – also known as active listening – which gives you a better grasp of what others (namely, your peers and your subordinates) are experiencing and feeling. This will better enable you to respond to what you hear (and see), which – again – will help you to be a more effective leader. One extremely important caveat, though, is this: when you ask questions, you must ensure that it is safe for people to answer; otherwise you will not get the kind of feedback you need.

Finally, and most obviously, listening does happen with your ears. In the book Quiet (2012), Susan Cain discusses implications of introverted personality tendencies for leadership, and applies it to a lesson on listening when she shares the experience of a sales person who states, “In sales there’s a truism that ‘we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionately.’ I believe that’s what makes someone really good at selling or consulting – the number one thing is they’ve got to really listen well” (p. 240). What this really means is that we need to close our mouths and let others say what they need to say, and we actually need to be attentive to what they say. We need to follow Enzo’s counsel of not interrupting, or not taking over or sidetracking the conversation, but rather consciously hearing the words, the meaning, and the heart of what others are saying.

In essence, an effective leader needs to be an effective listener, and that requires intentional effort and discipline. Learn to listen with your eyes by observing, learn to listen with your mouth by rephrasing and asking questions, and learn to listen with your ears by setting aside your own interests and hearing the meaning of others’ words. Be a better listener and you will be a better leader.

Week of July 6, 2015