If all leaders had a magic wand to get their thoughts across in the best possible way, they would not have to master the art and skill of communication. But as it turns out, leadership is practiced in the real world, complete with flaws and imperfections. And communication counts for much of people’s direct experience of any leader.
Of course there are situations in which these phrases below – coming from a leader – would be acceptable. But if fostering healthy relationships and creating a culture of open dialogue are the goal, a leader may want to avoid of these types of statements and find other ways to get their message across.
- “I expected..”
Any relationship stands to benefit from clearly defined expectations. It helps reduce friction. But as long as we’re not clones of each other, this will always be a work in progress. We are a very diverse bunch. A good leader knows this well and is careful not to make their expectations the standard. In fact, good leaders are very intentional about making sure everyone under their leadership is on the same page. In so doing, they don’t seek to clarify their own individual expectations but rather to dialogue towards agreement and consensus. They understand that there is real strength in numbers and seek to gain the support and buy-in of others.
- “It’s common sense”
As human beings we take the idea that we are intelligent very seriously. And indeed we are. So we take it to heart when our intellect is questioned with this phrase. Who would want to be regarded as lacking the most basic thought level needed to function in a society? A good leader knows that people reaching different conclusions indicates they may not have the same level of information, the same set of incentives, or both. It could also just mean they are different as individuals. The fact that any two people don’t hold the same view hardly proves that one of them is intellectually challenged.
- “I’m in charge”
I was recently pulled into a disciplinary meeting over what I considered a trivial infraction. I informed the convenor of my view that they’d been unduly high-handed.
No doubt leaders hold authority that is – ideally – commensurate with their responsibility. It gives them power. Power to make influential decisions and not have to explain themselves to anyone. This has many practical benefits. Most obviously, leaders can get things done a lot quicker. But power is not without its pitfalls. Speaking of what he referred to as “corruption by authority” against the doctrine of papal infallibility, John Dalberge-Acton – known to the archives as Lord Acton – famously wrote these words in a letter:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely..”
The message is simple: too much power gets to anyone’s head. So when a leader starts making statement’s like this, it’s a red flag. The tendency to lord it over subordinates in this way is something a good leader would be weary of. Reason being, it kills morale. Anyone who has to work with a leader already knows where they stand in the pecking order. Who needs a reminder.
Leadership remains a subject of much fascination, study and – lest we forget – debate. And why not? So much depends on leaders that the science of good leadership is a fully fledged industry. Indeed within academia, leadership is no longer viewed as part of broader management studies. That would be far too limiting, for leadership is now regarded as a discipline in its own right.
The debate on leadership will certainly continue beyond this article. Many questions remain. Is leadership an innate trait or is it learned? Is it better described as a skill or a virtue? Will we one day have a super-chip implant boasting pre-programmable leadership styles? Admittedly some questions are more informed by curiosity than need. Whatever the question, leaders will continue communicating with everyone else. And that communication process will – in large part – affect how leaders are perceived.
I hope you enjoyed this read. I certainly enjoyed writing it.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.