I've been working with leaders and studying leadership for more than 20 years and I can confidently say this is a new era of leadership. The world is certainly much more global today. The speed of work is exponentially faster. And, technologically--well, there's no comparison.
But amazingly, more than any of these things, I believe leadership is now more fundamentally altered by the human dynamic. Relationships and social connectivity matter more than ever before for powerful leadership. I've already written about the importance of communicating as an analytical leader as well as in a structural way, so now I'll cover the importance of social dynamics. This is the third of my seven-part series on leadership communication styles.
Social Leadership is Now More Valued Than Ever Before
In the late 80s, when I began studying brain types and applying that research to leadership and the workforce, there was a defined, palpable backlash against social, empathic, and relational characteristics in the corporate world. In the assessments I use, I can distinctly recall high-potentials asking me how they could "get rid of their red" or social element.
Leaders, and women leaders in particular, didn't want to be seen as "touchy-feely" or "emotional." They saw the bottom line or rigid, left-brain thinking as most valuable. Even skills as esoteric as "creativity" were more highly-prized than relational thinking.
Thankfully, with social media, the millennial generation, and the rise of women in the workplace, I've seen the social element of leadership rise to the forefront.
Leaders now not only want to tap into their social brain, they believe it is imperative. Years ago, I would never have guessed I'd read an article like this one that says the best leaders are those who are vulnerable.
But as happy as I am that these qualities are being celebrated and utilized more and more, I also know it's tough to communicate empathically. That said, whether you have a tendency to think and behave in a social way or not, you certainly need to connect with your team in this way. Here's what I mean.
A Social, Relational Approach Is Built on Characteristics Like These
- Intuitive, gut-thinking
- Care for how decisions affect people
- A collaborative, team-focused approach
- Orientation toward relationships and a desire to get things done through people
- An ability to connect ideas and work to people
This is a very hard part of leadership--and not every leader naturally thinks this way.
I'll take you through the example of one of my first executive coaching clients, James. He rose through the ranks at a large corporation, eventually reaching the C-level. At that point his staff consistently praised his empathic nature.
That's why it was all the more amazing when he showed them his thinking and behavioral makeup, which showed only a sliver of red or "social" thinking.
James told his company that, while it did not necessarily come naturally to him, he knew that social communication was critical to his work as a leader. He said, "I use up my social thinking at work and by the end of the day I'm exhausted."
James got it. He understood the power of collaboration and social thinking. He actively engaged the process of putting himself in the shoes of the people on his team.
Strong leadership is speaking the language of your people.
How to Communicate in a Social, Relational Way
1. Don't be afraid to tap into feelings.
Use questions like: "How does that grab you?" "How are you feeling about this?" Or statements like: "I'm concerned about how others will react."
2. Think personal connection first and foremost.
Phrases that evoke this: "Let's work through this together." "Have we talked through this enough?" "Is everyone on the same page?" "I'd love to connect with you about your plan."
3. Be vulnerable. It's okay.
What do I mean? Consider comments like this: "I am hurt, you didn't return my phone call." "Are our plans and policies being administered fairly to all?"
4. Show gratitude and appreciation.
Here's some examples of how you can convey that. "I really love your contributions." "I want to recognize how hard everyone is working and say thank you." "How can we better serve the team? We want to make sure you keep up the great work."
Start with people and tap into your social brain to be a better leader and get things done.