Sally Helgensen's s+b blog in May made this point yet again. It's not just those in positions of leadership who exercise inspiring influence. It's all those who show up living the qualities of leadership who can shape and reshape the way the organization or team succeeds in its mission. That's a truth worth pondering afresh.
Helgensen presents an impressive summary of the qualities that influential leaders have to offer, wherever they are positioned in the formal structure of an organization:
- to think critically
- to communicate effectively
- to make complex decisions
- to make ethical judgments and live with integrity
- to practice intercultural skills
- to engage in continual new learning
- to give and receive helpful feedback
- to develop increased self-awareness
- to reflect regularly on lessons learned
This kind of influence is exercised primarily through conversations. Influential leaders, no matter what their position, use their voices to create spaces for collaboration to happen. The most inviting way to convene such conversations is curiosity. Asking people what they think, how they see things, what their perspectives are, opens up a space for genuine dialogue, where varying views are honestly expressed and thoroughly explored. Out of that kind of expression and exploration, new ways of seeing and acting often emerge that were not in the mix when the conversation started.
The Jazzthink image painted back in 2002 by Colin Righton helps illustrate this dynamic.
Everyone in the picture has a role to play in the performance and is clear about where it starts. As anyone knows who has listened carefully to jazz, however, that may not be where the conversation of the piece ends up. As the musicians enjoy the space to improvise, to experiment, to make mistakes and explore them safely, they discover ideas and sounds they did not imagine when they began. Still, all of this, no matter how messy it gets at times, is done in the service of playing the melody (think purpose) as well as possible, then even better.
Everyone is contributing equally, though in their own unique way in their own unique role. At the centre of the image, especially apparent in the textures of the original painting, is the red energy that seems to keep their individuality focus on the same purpose, the same melody.
Everyone in the group has to practice the qualities of influential leadership - critical thinking, communicating, deciding in complex situations, playing with integrity, aligning with different ideas and approaches, learning new things, offering and accepting feedback, growing in self-awareness, and reflecting on the lessons being learnt where the musical conversations end up. Blending all these activities into their signature presence for the benefit of the group is the only way to play their best, then play above that for the sake of their audiences.
To show up in this way, to reach this level of expressing your unique brilliance, is hard. It takes attention, intention, and retention. It works best when you focus on your purpose and retain your learnings.
As we approach the different pace that often characterizes the summer months, I invite you to think through the kind of influence your conversations are having in your workplace.
- Are you paying enough attention to the sound and substance of your voice in the conversations?
- Are you taking a few seconds (literally, one or two breaths) before you speak to centre on a positive intention?
- Are you aware of what you are learning from your conversations, one conversation after another?
I wish you a provocative summer season and hope you can find some time to reflect on the power of your conversations to have a positive influence among your colleagues.