Wednesday, April 28, 2010
How do we find ways to lead people to be their best when they’re dealing with time, attention or trust deficits?
Let’s face it; regardless of the role we play, we’re often working at the short end of the stick these days whether it’s with customers, clients, colleagues or an array of stakeholders. So how do you manage, inspire and motivate people when the clock is ticking? The heat is on? A competitor becomes a collaborator? Or your industry is turned upside down in a day – presenting you with new challenges or extraordinary opportunities?
Two words: Communication Intelligence. I call it CQ. It’s an essential skill set and a mindset that enables you to have exceptional situational awareness through what you see, sense, and how you take responsibility for understanding others and being understood.
It’s not enough today to lead with your head, no matter how high your IQ. Emotional Intelligence will also only get you so far unless you also have the ability to communicate in ways that gain you insight into: (1) what’s left unsaid, (2) what’s been misunderstood, and (3) what’s between the lines of a conversation, an email, or other communication.
Recently I had the opportunity to work with a senior officer in the U.S. Army. He taught me an important lesson in leadership. As I was working with him to design and facilitate a workshop for his top officers, I asked him why he was “intrigued” with the concept that a pause was powerful. In working with his team I learned that when you’re back is against the wall, performance expectations are high, lives are at stake there are “no excuses” for failure. The ability to pause to make the most of your time and resources is a paradigm shift that often only takes seconds. And that’s all it takes to spell the difference between success and failure.
The payoff of a high speed pause
Yes, in today’s no-time, high speed, excruciatingly competitive world, taking a time out, even for minutes, let alone an hour or a day – well, it’s counterintuitive. And, it is powerful because a well-timed pause saves time, builds trust and enriches your bottom line. Why? Because when you don’t think you have the time or even need to pause is when you have the most to gain. I’ve seen this demonstrated day by day whether I’m working with the Dean of a top ranked international business school, the “hit the ground running” president of a 40,000 student urban research university, the CEO of an award winning marketing/crisis communications company, or the founder of successful, paradigm-shifting bank.
Like most of us they live on deadlines and succeed by seizing the day. And they succeed in part by having the confidence to take a few moments to gain insight by asking, What don’t I know I don’t know?
This willingness to ramp up (and openly display) your humility as a leader provides your people with an on ramp to quickly and effectively be their best in the midst of uncertainty, change or new opportunities.
Humilty drives breakthroughs
Leaders who demonstrate that they know they don’t have the instant answer can motivate their people to collaborate to break new ground. Why? Because they aren’t driving decisions based on assumptions or instant reactions – even when they are sure they are right and others are wrong. They are making room for people up and down the line to stick their necks out and do what’s so easily lost in tight economic times – to take a chance on finding a new way to spot or solve or prevent a problem or launch a new idea.
The old leadership model of expecting leaders to have the answers, because they’ve “been there done that”, or they have the clout or the contacts – that model is outdated for today’s 24/7 world where change happens at the speed of a click.
Working with time and performance driven, resource-pressed Founders, CEO’s, COO’s, Government and Organizational leaders and Employees at all levels – I’ve found that people are more likely to trust you when – without hesitation – you:
(1) Have the humility to acknowledge what you don’t know you don’t know
(2) Commit to working side-by-side with your people to rethink the problem and possibilities
(3) Encourage them to lower their defenses and to take things less personally
(4) Appreciate that misunderstandings happen often in a high-speed, assumption driven world. They can be mined for gold if we develop the skills to understand someone’s intent – not just react to our interpretation of their words
(5) Are willing to take a measured pause to adopt a “Get Curious Not Furious™” mindset and suspend judgment long enough to see beyond your experience and point of view to literally stand in another’s shoes.
What if powerful leaders aren’t those who have the answers? What if instead, they are the people who have the courage to encourage the rest of us to listen past what we know to be true, to wonder what can be discovered – together?
Nance Guilmartin is an Emmy winning speaker, executive coach, educator and author of
The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World (Wiley/2009). She is a
Fellow and adjunct instructor at Florida International University’s Center for Leadership where she challenges leaders to take the simple - yet not simplistic - steps to be their most effective.