Traits of a Servant Leader: A Skilled Communicator
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Ken Blanchard, author of many books including One-Minute Manager, and Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. The two of them sat on the conference stage in two big comfortable living room chairs and talked to the audience about their recent book, Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success. They talked for one hour, without any notes, and it felt like they had just stopped by for a chat over a cup of coffee. Communicating well is a gift; a gift of great leaders.
In the book we have been discussing over the last few weeks, Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, the authors say that being a Skilled Communicator is an essential trait of a servant leader. I want to stand up and applaud – for my experience so completely supports this premise. Yet I have met so very many leaders that were not skilled communicators primarily because they were too busy thinking of themselves.
The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
George Bernard Shaw
A gifted communicator always expresses empathy toward the people they are communicating with, just as I experienced with Ken Blanchard and Colleen Barrett; they spoke in a way that connected with me. They had taken the time to get to know the audience. Then they prepared the stories, facts and examples that would connect with the group. They were demonstrating empathy in the way they communicated. Sipe & Frick tell us that “empathy enables us to establish bonds of trust and caring with our colleagues and customers, to meet them with our hearts as well as our minds, and to influence them to faithfully follow our lead.”
Empathy is not niceness or feeling sorry for someone. It is stopping long enough to see the world from the other person’s perspective. It requires setting aside your own history and point of view until you know theirs. Ask questions. Listen Carefully. Reflect on the things they tell you. Respond authentically. Build a genuine connection with the other person.
If you are like most people, you don’t enjoy asking for feedback. It’s stressful. But a skilled communicator asks for feedback and sees it as an opportunity to improve. A few weeks ago, I asked a colleague to read a presentation I was preparing to give at a conference. I wanted to see what parts of the presentation resonated with another leader and what sections needed more work. But even though I asked for the feedback, I found myself a bit anxious awaiting the response. But my colleague knew how to give great feedback:
- Respond quickly – his note came back in an hour
- Be supportive – his first comment was encouragement that I was on the right track
- Nonjudgmental – nothing he said was harsh or condescending in tone
- Specific – each comment had a page number and a specific suggestion
- Just the right amount – the feedback was not overwhelming, I was able to accommodate his input
- Say thank you – he effusively thanked me for the opportunity to contribute and wished me well
This kind of feedback is what you need as a leader to continuously learn and improve your communications.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
This was my favorite section of the chapter on skilled communication. As John Maxwell often says, “all leadership is influence.” And therefore, all outstanding leaders must learn to communicate with persuasion. There is nothing manipulative about influence or persuasion. You are simply making the case for what you believe to be the best path forward. It is up to the listener to decide whether to agree and follow. Your job as the communicator is to address these three essential components of persuasive communications:
- Smart: what is the logical, rational appeal?
- Heart: what is the emotional appeal?
- Character: what makes your appeal credible and trustworthy?
Like many aspects of leadership, these are proven techniques for making your case. They were first written about in the fourth century B.C by the great philosopher Aristotle. That’s good enough for me. Test your communications by these three viewpoints of your audience and see your influence grow!
A skilled communicator serves the people well. They listen. They ask for feedback. They influence persuasively.
Lead. Serve. Succeed.
The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the individuals writing them, including Cheryl Bachelder, and specifically not those of AFC Enterprises, Inc., Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, or their respective parent, affiliate, or subsidiary companies.
Seven pillars of servant leadership: practicing the wisdom of leading by serving James W.Sipe – Don M.Frick – Paulist Press – 2009
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