During my consulting career in corporate America, one of the services I frequently provided was the creation of a Position Portrait. This document contained a list of the behavioral skills that a person needed to be able to perform to be successful in the employment position described.
To discover this list of skills I used a combination of Perceptual Style Theory – Where did the position fit theoretically? – and information gathered from interviews with people who successfully performed in the position or managed those who did. What I discovered was that most managers tended to hire people like themselves rather than selecting for the skills necessary for successful job performance.
This tendency is not uncommon, and reveals a frequent hiring pitfall that is also evident in those who would lead – hiring or surrounding one with “mini-mes”. Those that approach the world from a different viewpoint from our own are harder to communicate with and therefore more challenging to lead. But effective leaders are aware that any group of capable followers contains people who see the world differently than they do, and they find ways to communicate effectively to each of them.
How does a leader ensure that their message is received by as many as possible and that they are actually leading all those who they wish to have follow them? It is easy to assume in situations of formal leadership such as one finds in business that those that one manages follow. But too often employees are being dragged along rather than joining in enthusiastically.
Effective leaders know that because of the limitations of their Perceptual Style their view of any situation is necessarily incomplete. An understanding that others have a different but equally legitimate point of view that adds necessary perspective to life is a valuable trait for anyone. It is crucial for those who seek to lead. In fact, leadership requires that an individual go beyond just understanding to valuing and seeking.
To master the skill of communicating to those who do not share your Perceptual Style can be a challenge. Finding the right words that will open another’s willingness to follow requires extra effort on a leader’s part. Effective leaders learn the “language” of those who see things differently from them, and they actively seek out and encourage the sharing of other’s viewpoints.
Learning the “language” of Perceptual Styles other than one’s own requires commitment and hard work. Once a leader has developed the skill of finding the right words to invite dialogue, critique, and crucial input from others, they must be patient enough to really listen and to decode input from those who offer it from a different perspective.
When working on developing this third leadership skill, what is being sought is an awareness of the value that those with a different Perceptual Style have to offer and a willingness to use words, concepts, and approaches that are foreign to the leader’s viewpoint in order to communicate. Development coaching of this skill involves:
- helping a leader to understand how people with different Perceptual Styles see the world,
- praise and validation for seeing and acknowledging the value of different perspectives,
- helping them to learn key behaviors and viewpoints that indicate different Perceptual Styles,
- teaching different approaches to communicating with others both speaking and listening, including word choice, phrasing, points of emphasis, content, and values,
- validating and praising leadership based on more than the leader’s focus,
- support for seeking the skills, input, and perspective from others,
- working to help determine from whom the leader can get them, and
- identifying and reinforcing instances of seeking and using the input from others.
Developing this key leadership skill requires a very hands-on approach and a willingness to experiment. Leaders must be willing to practice alternative forms of communication other than those they are most comfortable with and work to master their ability to use multiple approaches simultaneously in order to appeal to the greatest number of potential followers. It is a true challenge, but diverse communication skills are essential to the master level of leadership.
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