Individuals learn leadership lessons in the most individual ways and often at unpredictable times.
I was facilitating a high potential leadership team program when one of the participants interrupted me and blurted out, “I get it! I finally get it!” The class came to a halt. I turned to him and said, “What is it you get?”
The participant, Ethan, started to explain that he now understood the implications of a communication principle we had covered months ago. He said, “I just realized that I am the problem in the group I lead. I never understood why my teammates could not process issues and make decisions as quickly as me. It drove me nuts, so I would take charge and start telling them what to do instead of asking what they thought we should do. They are nice people to work with, but so frustrating at times.”
The Enemy Within
Ethan had come face to face with his strongest opposing force—himself. It was an illuminating moment for him (and the class) as he realized his actions were getting in the way of being an effective leader.
I could see that he was processing years of needless frustration, so I seized the opportunity to create a coaching moment:
“Ethan, what have you discovered about yourself?”
He responded profoundly, “I realize now that I have been overplaying a strength that I thought would bring me faster results. I have a Dominant communication pattern. It’s who I am. I am really time- and task-oriented. I am not as interested in feelings and relationships at work.
“I also realize that most of my team members have an Amiable communication pattern. They are very different from me in how they solve problems and make decisions—I prefer to make decisions quickly with less data, but my team is not as comfortable taking that risk. They often fuss over things and don’t seem to have any time boundaries. When I see this happen, I can’t stop myself from stepping in and taking over. I feel like I have to keep the ball moving forward.”
“I realize now that I disempower the team with those actions. The sad thing is that most of our decisions are not urgent and certainly not life threatening.”
I urged him on: “What modifications can you make in that situation?”
His response was what I was hoping for. “I need to relax and have more patience. Instead of dominating a situation I feel isn’t getting resolved quickly enough, I need to lower my assertiveness. I need to get more comfortable coaching my team through a decision-making process using questions—I think this might help the team process faster and learn how to make quicker decisions. That would also force me to listen to their ideas and concerns. As hard as this is for me to do, I think it would empower team to be more decisive and maybe more comfortable telling me the way things really are.”
The class surprised me with a round of applause for Ethan. Then I realized that they had just witnessed what they thought was an improbable transformation of a colleague. It was a very inspiring and satisfying moment for me and the group.
From Insights to Action
I was thrilled to see Ethan’ progress, but knew that these breakthroughs are most effective when they are supported by an action plan. I asked Ethan if he could take on an assignment to teach us further.
His assignment was to act on his revelation—to engage his team in ways that he had described—then to return to the next workshop and report the outcome.
Ethan did so and proved that “do it my way” leaders can modify their communication pattern and value the new perspectives that come as a result.
He reported that his more Amiable team turned out to be great problem solvers once he stopped overplaying his strength. His lower-assertive coaching approach helped his team open up. They needed more time and space to process—time and space he is now more willing to give them once he saw how effectively it empowered them to deliver results.
I asked Ethan one final question. “Was making small, temporary adjustments to the way you communicate to your team a waste of your time? Did it slow down progress, or slow down the ‘ball’ you were so anxious to keep rolling?”
Perhaps this was his greatest revelation. “It defies logic, but in many instances taking a bit more time to adapt to the communication patterns of my team actually saved me time and I tend to get better outcomes when I do.”
The Burden of Dominants
The reason I share this story is because Dominant bosses need to be self-aware with how they interact with others.
Until they recognize the impact they have on others through their communication, they’re failing to fulfill the potential of their leadership, and are missing out on maximizing important knowledge and talents from their team members.
Connecting With People
Great leaders have empathy. Empathy enables the leader to understand, relate to, and “connect” with a greater variety of people. Relating to others begins with seeing different sides of yourself and others.
The “connecting” process includes:
- Self-awareness of how your communication strengths can become your weaknesses when overplayed at the wrong time.
- Understanding the Communication Patterns of others.
- Temporarily modifying your Communication Pattern to meet the needs of others.
Armed with this self-awareness, understanding, and the ability to make temporary modifications, the Dominant boss will become a more versatile and impactful leader with greater ability to truly lead.
Funny thing–when Dominant bosses figures this out, they typically get more of what they want from others: faster results and better outcomes!
Learn more about Dominant Communication Patterns:
Do you think you may be a dominant communicator (or do you know someone who is)? This article by Leadership Choice President, Brett Walker discusses how to connect better with highly-assertive leaders.