In Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee’s book, Primal Leadership, the three researchers construct a justification for a new approach to leadership that is capable of moving organizations to a higher level of excellence, helps employees feel more involved in the mission and creates better relationships with clients. They identify the “visionary” leaders as the pinnacle of resonant leadership, as they are able to “move people toward shared dreams” and that they are inspiring, “empathetic” and a clear communicator. The ideal leader in this scenario is someone who is intuitive and capable of speaking of his/her “values, direction and priorities.” (see link.)
Kerry Bunker from the Center for Creative Leadership has also written a book that defines the importance of authenticity in leadership during times of transition in companies (Leading with Authenticity in Times of Transition). In Bunker’s book, he is outlining how a leader who is willing to be open and reveal his/her emotional state during transitions, the more impactful his/her effect is on ushering an organization through the many difficult times of transition.
Both books outline the importance of an open and empathetic leader to the success of a growing and evolving company. They both contrast their findings with the common theme of a leader as a “commanding presence” and find that, while effective during times of panic or crisis, the controlling and threatening type of leadership can create profound dissonance in a corporation that relies on the employees to take ownership of the company’s problems and clients. Anyone who has ever been badgered into “caring” about an outcome or has tried to force employees to take initiative in working with clients knows how fruitless and frustrating this behavior is. You can’t yell someone into being thoughtful and creative. The more that we ask our employees to care about the mission of the company, the harder it is to play the commander.
A resonant leader is someone who is capable of persuading employees that the goals of the organization are also their goals and that the success of the company is a reflection of their own sense of belonging to something bigger and more expansive than anything that they could accomplish on their own. In other words, a resonant leader inspires those in the organization to strive for something greater than themselves and outlines a mission that is transcendent as well as lucrative.
It is important to point out that you can’t sell what you haven’t got, so if you don’t have that vision, if you don’t have a mission that is transcendent or ambitious, then perhaps it is time to get one. There is nothing more dissonant than trying to slap an inspiring theme on an uninspiring task. (“Clean the bathroom and save the world” doesn’t quite ring true and will only make the maintenance staff more resentful for being burdened with the added responsibility of saving the world.) You can, however, turn what seems like drudgery into a transcendent moment. “Our bathrooms are cleaner than your mom’s,” which brings a sense of humor to an otherwise humorless job and has a clear objective that the maintenance people can aspire to reach. Most of us have an image of the iconic mother who is trying to keep the bathroom spotless for the guests. The Heath brothers (Dan and Chip) make this point in their book Made to Stick and it is helpful to remember how effective it can be.
So, if you have a clear vision the next question is how you are communicating that to your employees and your clients. The goal, according to Goleman and Bunker is to be as genuine as possible in your communication, thereby getting the biggest impact with your message. If you are still asking why you should be genuine, perhaps it would be helpful to look to your employee turnover rate. If you have good retention of employees and find that you are able to help your teams work through any resistance to change, if your feedback is well-received and you have no problem communicating your vision to your company, then perhaps you already are a resonant leader. If these things are not true for you, or if you see a need to be better at them, then I suggest asking yourself these questions:
- What inspires me about what I do? How do I share that inspiration with my employees and my clients?
- How honest and open am I about my weaknesses and strengths when I speak to my clients and employees?
- Do I listen?
If the answer to all three is “I don’t know” then you have an excellent opportunity to become a more resonant and impactful leader.
A basic element of communication is that you have to reveal to your audience what you would like reflected back to you. If you want your employees to be more open and flexible, ask yourself if you are being open and flexible when communicating with them. If you want them to listen and take ownership of the project, ask yourself if you are listening to them and giving them the space to take it on as their own.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being able to talk about them gives others permission to own their own. The last thing that you want is for someone to lie about being good at something if there is someone else who could do it better. If everyone had to be good at everything, then there would be no need for a team.
Listen. Nothing opens up people more than the belief that their ideas and opinions are heard. You don’t have to indulge every whim, but giving people the space to share where they are at in a project or in a transition is vital to releasing the pressure that is inherent in stressful situations. An empathetic leader in these moments can do amazing things for a group that is trying to make big changes.
Know yourself, become aware of you impact on people and take the next step into more effective and powerful leadership.