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How am I being experienced as a leader?

If you ask five different people if they think they are likely to be good leader, then you will get five different answers.  But those different answers will tend to settle out into two different groups; those who assume there are those who innately know how to lead and those who believe good leaders can be trained. It is the old nurture versus nature question in another guise and it inevitably misses a core point.

Such a question often arises at that stage in a leader’s career when they are presented with an increasing number of situations (read subordinates and team behaviors) where they don’t seem to be able to either change the individual’s behavior or remove some pattern of unhelpful group dynamics.

Such contemplations inevitably are framed on the assumption that there are some who innately know how to lead and there are others who have grown to become effective leaders. Such people worry if they are not in the first group, then what are the chances of them joining the second group someday and dealing successfully with troublesome individuals and groups.

This construct was illustrated to me quite recently with my own daughter.

She has a new puppy.  It wouldn’t listen to her… at all.  She was using completely the wrong body language when telling it not to bite or not to jump up on her.  Her non-verbals were saying ‘lets play’ while she was telling it not to play.  This was confusing and frustrating for the poor animal and extremely frustrating and somewhat demoralizing for my daughter whose dreams of an obedient pup and fun times ahead were fading rapidly.

Fast forward a week and a half and she now understands the behavior she needs to use, in terms of the tone and volume of her voice, posture, hand commands etc and her puppy totally understands the boundaries and is willing to follow her rules. She has trained the puppy so it has the skills and understanding to give the desired behavior. 

This same scenario often plays out with inexperienced managers. Their words often say one thing while their body language tells another story… hence

  • why they aren’t taken seriously or
  • they get ‘lip service’ where people will say one thing and do another, or worst yet,
  • they are ignored or ridiculed by the people they are entrusted to lead. 

Once they understand there’s more to leadership than what they say.  Once they are aware of how others see them based on the non-verbals they are currently using and once they know how to change these to get a different result… we have the makings of a leader.

For example, if I don’t adjust my speed of speech to the rhythm of the person or group I am with and I speak quickly with a flat tone and keep my head still, then when I ask the individual or group for suggestions I may be bewildered when all I receive back is passive looks and silence.

Alternatively, if I smile a lot, bob my head up and down when I speak, let my sentences run one into the other without pauses and use a soft pleading tone when I direct another to deliver a specific task or result then I should not be surprised when I find they have simply ignored me.

As a general principle the meaning of a communication is in the response it elicits, not what I intend and not what I say. Moreover, more than 90% of communication is non-verbal and para-verbal – it is contained in what we do with our body, and how we speak.

Like my daughter with her new puppy by changing her behavior first, she achieved what she wanted from the puppy.

So if you ask five people are they likely to be a good leader you should get one response: it will depend on how well I can match my behavior to my expectations of others, and how they experience me when I use the required behaviors.

If you are at the stage of being frustrated and a bit demoralized in terms of the results you are getting with individuals or a team, it may be useful to look at how they are being led. And if there’s room for improvement- great news! 

Because this is something you have control over and can develop. Matching your behaviors as a leader to your expectations of others and knowing how you are perceived and interpreted by them is a coachable and trainable set of skills.

Good luck!

Cathy Taylor

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