Who Are You Serving?

serve to lead

Who Are You Serving?

That’s the question on the back cover of James Strock’s new book Serve to Lead: 21st Century Leaders Manual. It’s the first of four questions posed by the author. Serve to Lead is filled with principles that inspire us to the highest level of leadership. It’s an essential leadership guide for anyone aspiring to take their game to a higher-level. As someone who writes and speaks about servant leadership, I found it a compelling read.

James Strock is an author and leadership speaker, an entrepreneur, and a reformer. I recently asked him to share his perspective on the changing nature of leadership.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

21st Century Leadership

What has changed in the field of leadership for the 21st Century? 

Our lives and work are undergoing extensive, high-velocity change. It’s inevitable that leadership—which is about relationships and relates to all parts of our world—would be transformed.

Among the most significant changes is the breakdown of longstanding barriers that defined leadership. For example, individuals holding high positions of power traditionally tended to be distant from the those they served. Today, anyone can find a way to communicate with almost anyone else through new technologies. Such individuals no longer have the zones of privacy that separated their personal and professional lives. Elective politicians have been experiencing this new world for some time. Corporate and NGO officials are now liable to be held to account in the same way.

The new trends are part of a transformational change wrought by digital technology. In the 20th Century interactions were generally transactional. Now, by contrast, we’re in a web of relationships. Those relationships can be established or defined by individuals rather than by large public and private institutions.

The ongoing empowerment of individuals and previously isolated or marginalized groups through new technology has accelerated the longstanding trend toward leadership exerted through influence rather than domination or dictation. That doesn’t mean that the world has magically become a utopian paradise or democracy. It does mean that leadership roles are subject to greater accountability, and the tools of workaday management and service are in transition.

 

“Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period.” -Tom Peters

 

What are the unique challenges of our day that impact leadership? 

A unique, unprecedented challenge of 21st-Century leadership is involuntary transparency. Traditional notions of separate work and personal lives are being upended. Presidential candidates are pursued 24/7 by stalkers with video cameras. They lay in wait for a moment of anger, a moment of exhaustion, or a moment of pique. Then they pounce! Skilled propagandists will utilize such human moments to convey a negative narrative that appears more credible through a captured moment that may have no actual relevance.

Those who would lead are being curtailed in their capacity to craft a narrative. One can see advantages when this exposes relevant hypocrisy. Yet there are also costs. It can surely inflame the mistrust and cynicism that is afflicting the populace. It can also prompt people to turn away from positional leadership roles.

How involuntary transparency will be negotiated with expectations of privacy is one of the great questions of evolving 21st-Century leadership.

 

“First, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Everyone Can Lead

Communicate Like a Leader

Connecting to Inspire, Coach, and Get Things Done

 

Do you communicate with power?

 

Leadership is intertwined with communication. It’s a critical skill and it’s becoming more and more important in a world of social media and constant news cycles.

If you want to be an excellent leader, you simply must become an excellent communicator.

Dianna Booher is one of my favorites in the area of communication. She’s the CEO of Booher Research and she’s authored a staggering 47 books, including her latest Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done. She works with organizations to help them communicate clearly and with leaders to expand their influence by a strong executive presence.

I recently spoke to Dianna about her latest work.

 

Leadership Tip: Ineffective leaders communicate in one direction, by telling.

 

The Signs of an Ineffective Leader

What are some of the signs of an ineffective leader’s communications?

Ineffective leaders tend to place great trust in their own expertise and control. Their thinking seems to follow the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So most of their communication is one-directional—telling.  By contrast, more effective leaders like to get input from several trusted sources. They listen with an open mind and weigh facts and ideas before rushing to accept or reject these ideas as valid. The majority of their communication is collaborative.

Ineffective leaders often communicate with vague abstractions so as to avoid offense and blame on sensitive issues. More effective leaders, however, understand when an ounce of specificity is worth a ton of abstraction.

 

“Effective leaders understand an ounce of specificity is worth a ton of abstraction.” -Dianna Booher

 

While ineffective leaders may communicate directly and frequently (good habits), they often focus on controlling processes and people. Consequently, these leaders often come across as manipulative and uncaring. In addition to direct and frequent communication, more effective leaders are tactful, compassionate, and passionate when it comes to people.

Although ineffective leaders would probably never see their communication lacking in this way, they focus on detail—the “how” of a job, doing things right. More effective leaders communicate the bigger picture—the “why” of a job. And communicating that “why” to team members tends to inspire them to do their best work on the right things.

 

“What we’ve got here is  a failure to communicate.” -Cool Hand Luke

 

What to Do about that Micromanaging Boss

Better Communication, Not Just More Communication

Counterintuitive Advice

  • Want better communication?  Stop talking.
  • Think technology will help?  Expect less from technology and more from people.
  • Want to go forward?  Start by backing up.
  • Think being yourself is the answer?  Think again—it’s an excuse for Neanderthal behavior.
  • Ever been told that asking questions helps?  Questions actually make many conversations worse.
  • Want to meet aggression with force?  Bring a stick to a knife fight instead.

Geoffrey Tumlin makes all of these counterintuitive suggestions—and more—in his new book Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life. Suggestions like this pull me in and force my brain into arguments with my assumptions. Studying great communicators is something I have done my whole life because I’m always interested in better ways to connect, to understand, and to listen. Geoffrey’s book doesn’t disappoint. It’s filled with practical advice to improve our communication in the digital age.

Geoffrey Tumlin is a communication expert and an organizational consultant. He’s the founder and CEO of Mouthpeace Consulting, a communication consulting firm, and the president of On-Demand Leadership, an organizational development company. He’s a West Point graduate who also holds a PhD in communication from the University of Texas at Austin.

GT_Torch_TU

 

Good communication = Good Relationships = Good Life

Geoff, your book Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life is packed with advice from beginning to end. As you point out, good communication = good relationships = good life, so improving our communication helps us in all aspects of our lives. How has communication in the digital age challenged us and changed the game?

 

The fastest way to improve your communication is to stop talking. –Geoffrey Tumlin

 

The digital communication revolution of the last two decades has given us more ways than ever to connect with each other. The paradox is that these new capabilities have combined with our innate love of communicating and have led to hypercommunication: our inboxes overflow, our phones incessantly vibrate with text messages, and it’s difficult to keep up with the ceaseless conversations on social media. To cope with our increased communication loads, we’re sending more messages than ever, but we’re spending less time on each message. Our hypercommunicating environment doesn’t lead to productive and meaningful connections; it leads to rushed, distracted, and error-prone interactions. The ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time should have ushered in the golden age of communication. Unfortunately, it has all too often scattered our attention, strained our relationships, and degraded our interactions. Our challenge is to turn that around so that the most powerful communication devices in human history don’t come between us; they bring us closer together instead.

 

3 Guiding Communication Habits In the Digital Age

Let’s focus on the three guiding habits you say are critical in the digital age. Tell us more about each one of these habits and how to put them into practice.

It’s important to remember that these are guiding habits, not rigid orders. If you adopt these three behaviors, and if you incorporate them into your interactions, your communication will steadily improve. These three guiding habits will be like a tide that rises to lift all of your relationships.

 

Listen like every sentence matters; talk like every word counts. –Geoffrey Tumlin

 

1. Listen like every sentence matters.