Reflections on Leadership Communication Styles

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I spent Thanksgiving with my wife’s immediate and extended family. Two family members (husband & wife) are both executives in the banking industry. The wife (I’ll call her Carla) started sharing how her husband (I’ll call him Pedro) is having a rough time at work because of his boss. Pedro is a nice guy, knows the industry, and is well respected by his team. His boss (a man) takes his ideas, gives poor direction, and has little regard for anyone but himself. His boss reports directly to the CEO ( a woman). Carla argued that Pedro is not approaching the situation correctly. She gave examples of how her husband has argued with his boss (i.e., let his emotions get the best of him). Carla also stated that Pedro isn’t building a relationship with his CEO.

At this point in the conversation, I agreed with her that arguing with your boss is not a wise strategy and that building a relationship with the CEO is a wise strategy. However, Carla began to give an example of how the CEO went on vacation and put a picture of herself on the beach. What I mean by a picture of herself on the beach is just her toes. The unspoken expectation is that people in the office should “like” her pictures. Pedro said he didn’t “like” the picture. I agreed, in fact, that seemed to me like the CEO was creating a hostile work environment and potentially leaning into sexual harassment territory. Carla, and another female family member (also in a leadership position in another industry) began to argue that “liking” the picture of the toes must be done to play the game of politics.

Where do you draw the line? What does politics at work mean to you? Is it different in higher education? What have you done, just to play the game of politics? What are you not willing to do?

Another story came about this interesting Thanksgiving dinner. Carla shared that her leadership style is about the people. To back this up, she gave the following example: One day she came to one of her branches and saw a teller with a wrinkled shirt. She immediately went across the street and bought an iron. She pulled the worker aside and said, “Take this iron and go to the break room and iron your shirt. The good thing is that you now have an iron.”

I asked her, “Was that your employee?” She replied, “No, but technically works under me.” (She is the boss of the branch managers). Someone at the dinner table said, “Oh, that sounds like you were trying to mentor that fellow.” I think it was said, to reframe the conversation because it was a little awkward there for a minute.

Is that mentoring? Is it micro-managing? Maybe there were more details to the story. Maybe several glasses of gin and tonic may have distorted the facts?

In any case, both of these stories made me think about my own leadership communication style. That night, I tossed and turned, thinking and thinking. I came up with the following acronym: L.A.R.A. That is my last name. Believe me, I didn’t do it on purpose. I also have a counseling background, so it does mirror my counseling training and my understanding of mindfulness communication. It stands for the following:

Listen

Acknowledge

Reflect

Act

So, L.A.R.A. leadership communication begins with listening. That is something I didn’t hear in the stories above. We need to listen, gather information by asking questions, and hear the message behind the message. Listen to learn.

Second, after listening, we need to acknowledge what we’ve heard. Repeat it back to get clarification. Summarize the speaker’s thoughts and reflect it back. Acknowledge to respect.

Third, after acknowledging the message, we must reflect on what we’ve heard. Is it true? Do I need to apologize? What is it that I am being asked to do? How has what I’ve done impacted this person? How can I reply with mindful communication? Reflect to take responsibility.

Lastly, after reflection, we need to act. Through this mutual and collective dialogue, we have listened, acknowledged, and reflected. Now it is time to act respectfully, to commit to an action that represents the appropriate culmination of this process.

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