Updated: Feb 24
The sooner you learn about reading people, listening to others and building relationships, the sooner you will be more effective. So I would have spent a little more time on the people side, a little more time on the relationship side, early in my career
– Chevron CEO, John Watson
Being an effective leader is no mean feat. It requires the ability to bend and shape your skills to any and every situation.
The secret is in the ability to remain mindful of your own behaviours, those of the colleague you are speaking to and adapting your approach so it feels like a ‘win’ on both sides.
Most leaders are aware of their personalities and how they impact upon their team, but few take a moment to consider their behaviour and unconscious signals, which continually betray their true thoughts and feelings.
Knowing where you are starting from can help you to get where you are going more effectively, without becoming inauthentic and changing your personality entirely to suit a work environment.
Here are five key things all leaders can do to boost their effectiveness:
Understand your own behaviour
Gaining an understanding of how you communicate with direct reports and wider colleagues can help you understand how you are perceived. Your own behaviour, responses to stress and when and how you work most productively may not tally with your co-workers’.
Self-reflection is an art and not many will do this naturally. Seeing how others perceive us can often be a revelation, as we only view our intentions – not outcomes and actions.
Gaining unbiased 360degree feedback can be tough, as politics and the nature of our relationships with others may mean they are not totally honest.
Getting an objective and impartial organisation to conduct an unbiased review of your leadership can help to give you a true picture of how you are perceived – and what must be done to make sure your message is communicated effectively and heard.
Working with others’ behaviour
Managing people is difficult. No two are the same.
American academics at Psychological Associates categorise our behaviour at work in four ways: Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4. Ideally, we should all be Q4, but because this isn’t natural for many. Most of us will fall into the other three categories.
Q1 colleagues insist it is their way or the highway; Q2 colleagues will put off tasks and seek to blame others; Q3 colleagues are typically overly-social chatterboxes who dodge confrontation. In reality, we are all three of these at any one time, and managing these behaviours can be tough.
Q4 leaders challenge their direct reports appropriately, questioning the behaviour, not the individual. They are robust, consistent and measured in their responses, meeting the behavioural needs of their colleagues where appropriate to increase their receptivity to their message.
Working with others is tough and understanding their behaviour is even tougher. Those who manage to grasp their colleagues’ motivational drivers will be able to more effectively collaborate, engage and drive the business forward.
Ask many managers what they hate the most about their role and they will tell you that they loathe conflict.
Saying no to clients, requests for a pay rise, or just cutting through office tension is sometimes necessary. But do you run away, stay and put your foot down, or placate the situation?
In these scenarios, no matter how great a leader we are, conflict will elicit an emotional response to the stress of the situation. Solving the problem is usually the last thing on people’s minds, however, a swift resolution will quickly alleviate the stress and ensure things progress in a productive way.
Understand your response to stress as a leader and you will be better equipped with the tools to manage conflict – and spend time solving the problem.
It’s what you don’t say that counts
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘people buy people’? It’s true because it isn’t the words you say that have impact – although they do count – it is the impression you leave behind.
When you are managing a team, they are not reacting to your words, they are reacting to your expression, tone of voice, posture and body language.
The classic Mehrabian communication model tells us that 7% of the effectiveness of communication is based on what we say when our behaviour and expressions contrast with how the message is portrayed. However, a whopping 38% is based on the tone of voice you use and 55% is down to body language. No matter what you say, the words are secondary to the emotion felt by your colleagues when you speak.
Filming your behaviour when you speak and seeking objective, impartial, 360 degree feedback from your team, can help to develop your self-awareness as a leader and communicate effectively.
Follow and lead by example
If we follow the example of the best leader/manager we ever encountered, the likelihood is that one skill would stand out above the others: the ability to collaborate.
Two-way conversations, which enabled open discussion of topics, empowered you to take measured risks and pushed you to challenge yourself, was probably part of the reason you felt they were a great example.
Those who are good at leadership don’t spend time micromanaging their colleagues, but motivate them and use influencing skills to get them to solve problems themselves.
A model which has been around since the 1990s and was developed by American academics at Psychological Associates, typifies this type of behaviour as that of a ‘Q4 leader’. Q4 leaders typically have a high-regard for others, are receptive to ideas and give honest feedback. This, combined with behaviours that engender trust, creates an environment which is good for morale and bottom-line results.
In a moment of honesty, the retiring CEO of American gas, oil and commodities giant, Chevron, shared some brilliant leadership advice via LinkedIn which is the key to effective communication. Chevron CEO and Chairman, John Watson, said:
“During my early years in the company, I was fairly analytical in how I approached most situations. And although that served a purpose, I later realised that you can be much more effective if you recognise the importance of people in business.
“The sooner you learn about reading people, listening to others and building relationships, the sooner you will be more effective. So I would have spent a little more time on the people side, a little more time on the relationship side, early in my career.”