The right leadership mindset includes having the intention to lead, being a good listener and being authentic, focused and respectful. Get your outlook right, and you’ll find the other pieces will fall into place.
Be Ready To Lead
In this new world of spontaneous communications, an opportunity to lead might come at any moment, in any situation, at any level, to anyone in the organization. But you must have the intention to lead.
This involves the desire to move others by shaping their opinions, influencing their actions, or just connecting with them on a human level and making them feel better about their workplace or their lives.
Seizing these opportunities means, above all, realizing the potential of your own leadership and the ever-present opportunity to have an impact on others. Smart leaders know when to seize leadership moments.
- Pick the right time and place. Don’t speak too soon or wait too long to share your ideas. Choose your setting, too. Public spaces are not the best for sensitive discussions.
- Collect your thoughts. This is perhaps the most difficult challenge for impromptu speakers. After all, you may have only seconds to collect your thoughts. Think first...then speak.
- Have your audience’s full attention. Even if you have something powerful to say, or feel the person you are reaching out to knows you’re there, don’t speak until you have the undivided attention of the people you’re talking to.
- Have something valuable to say. If you don’t have something of substance, keep quiet and listen to others.
- Be politically sensitive. Even though organizations are flatter today, there are still political protocols for leading up, down and across your organization. And that means impromptu conversations must be undertaken with sensitivity.
Be a Listener
A commitment to truly hearing others is an important part of the right mindset. But active listening involves more than listening with our ears. It’s a threefold approach that requires our entire being — our physical, mental and emotional powers. Good physical listening begins with body language that shows you are interested in others.
Open your hands and arms, and direct your gestures toward the person you are talking to. Turn your head and body toward that person. Warm up your voice, and be expressive. Look people in the eye, and even in a group meeting, always look at the speaker even if that person is not talking to you individually. Smile, nod, show rapport.
Listening mentally is the second tier of listening and involves fully engaging your mind in what those around you are saying, and probing and building upon their thinking. The starting point of mental listening is attentiveness.
Mental listening also involves probing, drawing out others and eliciting their views. Mental listening at its best involves orchestrating a discussion and bringing coherence to disparate views.
The third tier of listening involves emotionally connecting with others and not letting your own feelings get in the way of effective listening. The starting point of emotional listening is reinforcement — nodding your head or saying “yes” and “I understand.” Show that you empathize by using phrases like, “I can see why you feel that way” or “That must have been a difficult decision for you.”
Authentic leadership involves sharing the genuine qualities that define us. But it is more than that. It also requires embracing the values and deep beliefs that represent leadership at its best. Those qualities include the intent to lead and listen and to respect the views and dignity of others.
The most successful leaders share what they know, believe, feel and experience in such a way that they inspire others. There are many ways to bring your authentic self forward. The following six will put your audience (and you) in touch with your true self.
- Share your presence. It is about being “in the moment,” being open to the conversation and aligned with the person or people you’re talking to.
- Share your ideas. Authentic ideas are original, bold ideas that come from within you. Leaders need to delve deep to find them.
- Share your beliefs and values. Authentic leaders inspire others with their beliefs and values.
- Share your feelings. Authentic leadership involves showing positive, motivational passion and filtering out destructive feelings that might demotivate others.
- Share your vulnerabilities. Authentic leaders are forthcoming about their strengths and weaknesses.
- Share your stories. Nothing will endear you more to an employer, boss, team, colleague, customer or friend than an inspiring story about yourself.
The need for focus is important today because everyone is on information overload, and you’ll lose your audience if you don’t deliver clear, focused thinking. In Brief, communications expert Joseph McCormack writes, “In 2008, Americans consumed about 1.3 trillion hours of information outside of work, an average of almost 12 hours per person per day.” At work, the demands are even greater. Given this flood of information, it’s no wonder people’s attention span has gotten shorter and shorter. The solution? Have a focused mindset that
(1) encourages you not to talk, talk and talk because you like to hear the sound of your own voice, and
(2) distills your thinking rather than offering up a content dump.
Steve Jobs distilled his presentations down to one message: “Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is,” he told his MacWorld 2007 fans. Being focused is a make-or break quality. You’ll lose your audience if you speak too long or get sidetracked. But if you stay focused you can rivet your listeners’ attention on exactly what you want them to know and care about.
True leaders show the utmost respect for their employer. If that sounds “old school,” just think of organizations as communities. Loyalty to your organization shows you value a community that includes you, your team, your colleagues, your customers and other stakeholders.
As a leader, you should inspire others to believe in the organization and what it stands for. Respect your management as well. When speaking off the cuff, avoid comments that show disrespect for your boss or senior management.
Organizations may be flatter than they once were, but showing respect is still a coveted quality. Respect your colleagues. Respectful people are the ones who listen attentively to others at meetings, who don’t interrupt when someone else is talking, who can be trusted with confidential information, and who always are generous and positive in their comments about others. They make others look and feel good.
Finally, respect yourself. Successful leaders also project a consistently positive and credible “brand” for themselves. They don’t undercut themselves when they feel vulnerable, tired or upset. Respect needs to be at the core of our conversations — and for that to happen we must make it part of our mindset.