Bosses order people about using carrots and sticks, coercing their underlings to do what the boss wants. In some cases, this may be effective … for a little while. A leader is different. A leader motivates and persuades people so that they want to do what the leader desires. A true leader listens. A true leader understands. A true leader persuades. By focusing on these three critical leadership skills, you can become a true leader.
What is a leader? There are dozens of definitions of “leadership,” but they boil down to this: leadership is the act of getting others to do what they would not otherwise do. Usually this happens in an organized way, so that everyone is working towards the same goal.
Genuine listening is the key to understanding. This seems obvious, but it is actually not easy to devote your full attention to what someone else is saying. Often we are so busy thinking about what we want to say in response that we miss the nuances of what the other person is saying. Leaders cannot afford to do this. Leaders must listen so they can understand their followers in order to persuade them. As former Secretary of State Dean Rusk put it, “The best way to persuade people is with your ears – by listening to them.”
Listening effectively is the foundation for understanding. This understanding lets you learn how to align the individual’s goals with those of the organization. In his classic Harvard Business Review article, W.C.H. Prentice stated, “A great leader’s unique achievement is a human and social one which stems from his understanding of his fellow workers.”
Understanding is at the core of effective persuasion, which is the ultimate goal of leadership. Attempts to understand persuasion go back at least to Aristotle. He broke down persuasion into three categories: appeals based on reason, appeals based on the messenger’s credibility, and appeals to the audience’s emotions. Aristotle called these logos, ethos and pathos. The most persuasive appeals use all three, and a good understanding of your followers helps you craft these persuasive appeals.
Leadership comes down to the art of persuasion. Leaders persuade their followers to carry out certain actions that lead to desirable organizational outcomes. Effective leaders know how to craft and communicate messages (verbal and non-verbal) and tactics that help bring about desired changes in behaviors. The most effective messages appeal to your specific audience of followers. In other words, to be persuasive, you need to understand your audience. Any successful salesperson can confirm this; to sell, you need to know your customer.
At The W.A. Franke College of Business, we help students hone their leadership skills in a variety of ways. For example, the Business Leadership Program (BLP) helps students gain leadership skills by improving their knowledge in the three critical areas discussed above. The three-year co-curricular program starts by focusing on listening skills in the sophomore year. The junior year’s activities revolve around improving students’ abilities to understand and empathize with others. The senior year caps the experience by centering on persuasion. (For more information on the BLP, see: http://franke.nau.edu/current_students/business_leadership_program/.)
My goal for the next three columns is to give you a taste of what our BLP students learn. Next month, we’ll discuss how to become a more effective listener. This will be followed by columns on understanding and persuasion. FBN
The W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University is home to over 2,700 undergraduate and Master’s students. The College’s faculty and staff are dedicated to the success of its students and the economic development of the region. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: http://www.franke.nau.edu/.
Written by Craig Van Slyke, Dean of the W.A. Franke College of Business.