What sounds like great leadership to you? Do words like peacekeeping, amiable, easygoing, diplomatic or mediating strike you as strong leadership words? Chances are probably not. But here's the secret about leadership that a lot of leaders and businesses get wrong. You need those kinds of qualities to truly be effective...and they don't necessarily indicate a lack of drive, motivation or conviction.
But try talking about business leaders as anything other than driving, charging tours-de-force and you risk sounding a bit out there at best and wimpy at worst.
But what does leadership need and what did those great peacekeeping leaders have? Empathic listening, an ability to rally many behind a cause (not just the loudest and brashest), and a way to bring many diverse ideas under one umbrella of positive movement.
Great leaders can perform without needing to drive things ahead forcefully--these leaders aren't lacking in assertiveness. They are just asserting in a new way. A more inclusive, harmonious way. I've never met Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell's Soup and current chairman of Avon Products and the Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute, but I have heard him speak and he strikes me as this kind of leader. His new book Touchpoints highlights a three-pronged approach to leadership built on using the head, the hands and the heart to engage, boost and drive employees to be their best.
The important thing here is that a different way of leading and driving forward not only saw the company grow and build revenue but also dramatically improved the people side of the business. Employee engagement at Campbell Soup went from being among the worst in the Fortune 500 to being consistently among the best under Conant's leadership. You don't get incredible advances in employee engagement by pushing an agenda and not listening to your stakeholders, whether they're customers, shareholders or employees.
So how do leaders who champion this more mediating, listening style of leadership work?
Well, they create direction not through direct force but rather by leveraging the respect and relationships that they have built with their staff. The power of their personality comes via being more open to others' ideas and more willing to listen to multiple points of view. They most likely will look for consensus on the direction as they move things forward. Note that consensus isn't delay and lacking in conviction or direction. Rather it is a way to keep people empowered and engaged.
If this sounds like you, the goal is to keep doing this but realize where blind spots can pop up. Extremely amiable and peacekeeping leaders can sometimes suffer from seeming indecisive or lacking conviction.
If what I described doesn't sound like you, then the goal is to take some of these tendencies and put them into your leadership toolkit. Situational and adaptable leadership is becoming ever more important, which means that the ability to gain consensus can help you get things done more quickly and amp up engagement.
In either case, to be an effective leader, you need to realize strengths in order to best capitalize on your natural proclivities and know when to pivot if you aren't doing things in the ways that may be less natural to you. Knowing where you stand as a leader, particularly on the Assertiveness spectrum, is the first step in formulating a baseline to change your level of assertiveness according to the situation.
So how can leaders become better by harnessing the more peacekeeping approach to leadership?
Engage the Employees: Peacekeeping leaders can motivate and guide their staff by engaging them in a listening framework. By connecting to the heart, as Doug Conant advocates, they can stimulate employees by pushing and exciting them to personally latch onto the goals they are seeking to accomplish. Through engagement, the peacekeeping leader can foster a sense of loyalty and dedication in driving the company's objectives forward. They make the completion of these goals important to all members of the work team.
Resolve team conflict: While a forceful leader may say "my way or the highway" in the face of interpersonal conflicts, a peacekeeping leader does just exactly what the moniker suggests: she keeps the peace. Listen thoroughly to the issues at hand and think about how to provide a reasonable and fair solution that best satisfies all parties involved and moves everyone and the company ahead. This kind of leader can implement without a driving personality because her solutions are well-thought-out and appeal to everyone involved. And if she has a history of making such decisions, she is most likely highly respected by her staff.
Leadership can be peacekeeping or driving. The key is to know who you are and understand that you need to connect with everyone who is looking to you for direction.