Rodger Dean Duncan, author of the recently published book Change-Friendly Leadership, has worked for the past 40 years as a leadership coach with a host of top executives, including U.S. cabinet members and CEOs of large companies. On Change This, he shares eight elements of their approach to strong leadership:
1. Relinquish power
At company retreats, the usual ritual is that titles are supposed to be checked at the door. In reality, every member of an organization is always aware of status differences. But good leaders ensure that in all their conversations, equality occurs, he writes. They resist pulling rank to get the best advice.
2. Defer judgment
As a leader, you will serve yourself and others best if you can resist coming to immediate conclusions. Instead, hold off until you have sufficient information and have held satisfactory conversations with your advisers. “Avoid ‘Allness,’ a dogmatic, unqualified, categorical attitude that you know all there is to know about something,” Mr. Duncan writes. “Practice saying four simple words: ‘I didn’t know that.’”
3. Challenge your own stories
He likes a bumper sticker he saw which read: “Don’t believe everything you think.” It is easy to become seduced by the stories we have built up, accepting them as fact. We compound that by then seeking information that confirms those stories. So don’t believe everything you think.
4. Prime your ideas pump
Be open to serendipity. “In any change effort [in fact, in life itself] we must constantly juggle what we know with confidence, what we’d like to know but don’t yet know, what we don’t even know we don’t know, and what we unknowingly already know,” he advises.
5. Listen with empathy
Simply listening to others is not sufficient, Mr. Duncan argues, because too often we’re listening only to help formulate our response. Instead, you must listen with empathy, appreciating the other person, letting go of your own needs, and patiently waiting to see what fresh directions you might be led into by the other party. Even if the other person holds a view contrary to everything you stand for, he advises you to listen with empathy.
6. Tame the elephants
Acknowledge the undiscussables in the room, and then deal with them. This involves identifying the elephant in the room – uncovering the assumptions people hold about that elephant, and making it safe to talk about the elephant so people don’t fear being crushed.
7. Inquire to discover
When having a conversation, make sure your inquiries do not come across as interrogation. “Consciously resist the temptation to play the ‘gotcha’ game. Remember, your purpose with inquiry is to discover and learn, not to entrap or rebut,” Mr. Duncan writes. “Follow this simple rule: Talk so people will listen, and listen so people will talk.”
8. Advocate with respect
There are times when you will need to advocate strongly for your beliefs, and times when there isn’t time for inquiry. But make sure you advocate with respect for others, and with humility. Keep in mind that the other parties also have wisdom and valuable contributions to make.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter