One of the many powers of communication is its ability to create strong relationships, where leaders and members interact and achieve shared understanding.
When it comes to leadership styles, there are about as many methods and theories as there are personalities in leader-member relationships.
In my experience, there are three powerful tools to communicate effectively, build trust and hold everyone accountable. My leadership philosophy, “3D,” includes dedication, detail and discipline.
We must be dedicated, committing to prepare and perform, motivating every step of the way. We must pay attention to detail, creating a shared understanding to enhance strengths and improve weaknesses. We must be disciplined, following rules to always be the best we can in all situations.
The bottom line is to know yourself and your team, and to develop together to form a winning combination that can withstand the test of time. Work together through the common language of 3D and through a shared understanding.
Leader Member Exchange Theory, Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
Leaders should create strong relationships where they bond with and inspire team members. Improvements in the work environment can deliver increased personal and professional growth, improved productivity and performance, and innovation. It’s important to examine performance versus productivity. Performance is based on output only, while productivity focuses on output in relation to input.
Productivity = Output/Input
Leader Member Exchange (LMX) Theory focuses on dyadic, or two-way, relationships between the leader and those they lead. These units require creating a bond fueled by open and honest communications that feature win-win opportunities.
Empathy has three aspects: emotional, cognitive and compassion. Emotional requires that you feel the other person’s pain. Cognitive is about wearing their shoes and seeing their point of view. Compassion involves taking action on someone’s behalf. These are the ways you show empathy.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to sense, understand and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, trust, creativity and influence. EI attributes are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, managing effective relationships and sound communication.
Self-aware leaders bring out the best in themselves. Self-managers turn obstacles into opportunities. Socially aware leaders imagine their own experiences and the experiences of others to find success and innovation. Leaders who create effective relationships often find the reward is shared understanding and trust. Effective communicators send clear messages, listen effectively, and take advantage of feedback to ensure the message is received and understood and that the appropriate actions can be taken.
There are also other interesting methods to assist in making communication work for you and your organization.
My engaged interaction principle is about listening, hearing and understanding. In other words, we must listen to what is being said, then take the time to hear the words and decipher them. Then, and only then, we should determine what action or response is needed in light of the message received.
Engaged interaction is achieved when all parties participate in flexible, full-range communication, making sure to listen, hear and understand. This open and flexible communication must continue until interaction and shared understanding are achieved.
Engaged interaction has similarities with EI because it relies on empathy. Leaders need to see what others see, allowing them to understand what others think about what they see.
There are three aspects of engaged interaction: knowing yourself, knowing others and knowing the goal.
- Know Yourself: Engage in open and honest interactions by accepting your feelings.
- Know Others: Strive to understand their thoughts, feelings and their commitment to the communication activity.
- Know the Goal: Once you understand yourself and others, you can tailor the communication to best suit everyone’s needs.
Communication Accommodation Theory
Accommodation is how we adjust verbal and nonverbal interactions to emphasize or minimize differences between participants, using language, context, identity, and intergroup and interpersonal factors. It is about how our language converges or diverges with others. The success or failure of an interaction is governed by how well, or poorly, we deal with speech, vocal patterns and gestures. In the digital interaction, we use text effects, images, emojis and other things to imitate what we miss by not being face-to-face, because we still need help to accommodate the interaction.
Sensemaking is a collaborative process of creating shared awareness and understanding out of different individuals’ perspectives and varied interests. The sensemaking metaphor describes people as moving along through time and space until they reach a cognitive gap, where an information need is perceived. Such gaps must be bridged through the acquisition of new information before they can move forward again. The goal of a person’s information-seeking endeavors is to make sense of a current situation.
A person trusts someone in the hopes they will exhibit actions that are satisfying and beneficial. Trustworthiness can grow if leaders and members can admit mistakes, acknowledge weakness, applaud strength and help each other in ways that allow both sides to prosper. Leaders can increase their own trustworthiness by trusting their team.
Both leaders and members have much at stake because trust is a contract that comes with risks. The risks may involve putting one’s faith or a pending decision in the hands of someone in whom you have not yet developed confidence in, or in whom there are limits to that confidence. Once gained, trust must be nurtured and reinforced continuously.
Effective use of the 3D principles combined with LMX theory, EI and empathy are not the only ways that leaders can be successful. However, their use leads to a focus on engaging people in open, honest communications, achieving shared understanding and win-win possibilities for leaders and those they lead.
Dr. Michael A. Brown Sr., Ph.D.
Michael A. "Doc" Brown, Sr., Ph.D., has authored several books and is an accomplished public speaker. He has coached different sports at the recreation league, middle school, junior varsity, high school and adult levels. He earned his public administration and urban policy degree, international business, from Old Dominion University (ODU) in May 2011. He is teaching online public relations and communication courses for Florida Institute of Technology. He is a senior public affairs specialist serving government clients. He has 40-plus years of military and civilian experience combined and an Air Force retiree who served 24 years in uniform.