Leaders must choose the kind of leader they want to be, and nobody else can make that choice for them. How do you choose from among alternative styles of leadership?
Naturally, in making your choice you will first want to consider the criterion of effectiveness (the central emphasis throughout this book). What leadership style will make you more effective—in building a team, making good decisions, getting productivity, fostering morale, and so on? You may also want to ask yourself other questions to help you focus on equally important issues:
- What kind of person do you want to be?
- What kind of relationship do you want?
- What kind of organization do you want?
- What kind of society do you want?
What Kind Of Person Do You Want To Be?
The style of leadership you choose will greatly influence the kind of person you will become. You’ll not be able to separate the two. Because you spend a lot of your time in your role as leader, how you behave in that role will inexorably shape you as a person.
To illustrate, a leadership style that depends heavily on coercive power will require you to maintain a rather consistent attitude of suspicion and distrust. You’ll have to be guarded in what you tell people, be on guard to detect signs of resistance to your power (or outright insubordination). Along with this vigilance, as an authoritarian leader you will find yourself viewing others as possessing limited capacity and low potential for self-direction, for constructive change and personal development, for thinking for themselves.
If you choose coercive power as your way of leadership, it will make an impact on your personal life in other ways. As I pointed out earlier, by assuming all the responsibility for group decisions and taking on the total burden for implementing and enforcing policies and rules you will pay a price of increased tension, worry, and anxiety—and ultimately have poorer physical and mental health.
Another issue: do you want to be a person who is open, honest, and direct in dealing with others? Psychologists use the term “congruence” to refer to the similarity between what a person is thinking or feeling inside and what she communicates to the outside. Do you want to say what you mean and mean what you say, or be a person who “doesn’t ring true” and can’t be trusted by others? Do you want to be a person who sends honest and direct I-Messages to let people know exactly where you stand?
There is, almost needless to say, a risk in being congruent in your communications, and you should seriously consider whether you can take that risk. If you decide to be a leader who is open, honest, and direct in presenting yourself as you really are, you risk exposing your true self to others. An I-Message sender is “transparently real”—to self and others. People must have courage to be what they are—that is, to communicate what they feel and think as of each moment in their lives. And here is the risk: if you open yourself to others, they will get to know the real you! Do you want people to know how you really are?
If you decide to be a leader who listens to others, there is another risk. Active Listening, as you have seen, requires you temporarily to suspend your own thoughts, feelings, evaluations, and judgments in order to attend exclusively to the message of the sender. It forces accurate receiving. For, if you are to understand the message in terms of the sender’s meaning, you must put yourself into the shoes of the sender (into her frame of reference, into her world of reality). Only then can you hear the meaning intended by the sender. The “feedback” part of Active Listening is nothing more than your ultimate check on the accuracy of your listening, although it also assures the sender that you have understood.
Active Listening carries its own risk. Something happens to a person who practices Active Listening. When you understand accurately how another person thinks or feels, put yourself momentarily into the other person’s shoes, see the world as another is seeing it—you run the risk of having your own opinions and attitudes changed.
People do get changed by what they really understand
To be “open to the experience” of another invites having to reinterpret your own. People who cannot listen to others are “defensive” because they cannot afford to expose themselves to ideas and views different from their own.
In summary, effective two-way communication, requiring both congruence (clear sending) and Active Listening (accurate receiving), entails two risks: the exposure of the way we really are and the possibility of becoming different. This is why effective interpersonal communication requires inner security and personal courage.
Are you willing to become this kind of person? Can you find the inner security and the personal courage you’ll need for open, honest, direct two-way communication with others?
(Excerpted from the L.E.T. book by Dr. Thomas Gordon)