When I started coaching some time back, I made it my mission to absorb as much information as I could about leadership (specifically in the areas of interpersonal effectiveness and good communication): devouring books on leadership models, leadership coaching, business, etc. I interviewed leaders on different levels in different sectors, and noted their common themes and struggles. I spoke with numerous teams to hear their experiences…

Eventually I hit that place of circular learning: where whatever you read or do, you encounter the same themes. The ‘nothing new under the sun’ phenomenon (or what they refer to in some research models as ‘saturation’).

And really, the themes are not difficult: if you ask a bunch of lay-people what types of leadership communication and relationship styles they believe to be most effective, they would come up with similar ideas.

So I began to think that this was too easy: that this knowledge isn’t rocket science, and that the paradigm shift from a harsh micro-management, or a disconnected, style of leadership to a more effective ‘people-centered’ approach clearly must have already happened without me. I thought that maybe I missed the ball and that I’d have to redefine my niche.

But to this day, whenever I speak with teams, I know that I was way off base with my presumption. Over and over I continue to hear the same complaints: a lack of strong leadership – particularly in terms of unclear, autocratic, or even no communication.

I know that there are also some very effective leadership styles that aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘people-friendly’ – and that different situations call for different responses. But all in all, I think we know what works best for the majority of circumstances and environments.

But why do many of us revert to old habits, or continue to do what goes against what we know to be a better way?

We do this for a number of reasons. First of all, because we’re human. And most of us are not villains: we do what we need to do to get the job done quickly for the higher good or common goal – whether our delivery is popular or not (and this certainly does take some courage). We also tend to revert back to automatic ways of being when we’re under stress.

And change is hard.

But to sustain a change we need to remain conscious of the alignment, or misalignment, of our intentions and our actions – and we need to understand and buy into why it might be important to practice a more people-centered approach (hint: things like morale and retention; better group cohesion leading to better initiatives; reduced conflict and stress – you get the idea).

We need to purposely and consistently examine our habits, patterns, and beliefs – and not be afraid to venture out of our comfort zones to experiment with different styles.

As leaders, this ‘venturing out’ is quite often our norm. So why not in the areas of interpersonal relationships and more emotionally-intelligent communication?

The best way to do this is to ask for specific and honest feedback from those most impacted by our actions: by asking how we come across now, and what might work better (and, of course, being willing to hear it). In addition, hiring a coach to help identify developmental opportunities, and staying on track with them, can be a very effective strategy.

Author's Bio: 

Chris Hammer, Ph.D. is a certified professional coach and licensed psychologist. He offers leadership and life coaching services, as well as various self-development tools for people who are passionate about reaching higher levels of success and becoming the best they can be.

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