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Traits Of A Servant Leader – A Skilled Communicator

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Ken Blanchard, author of many books including the One-Minute Manager, and Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines.

The two of them sat on the conference stage in two big comfortable living room chairs and talked to the audience about their recent book, Lead with LUV – A Different Way to Create Real Success. They talked for one hour, without any notes, and it felt like they had just stopped by for a chat over a cup of coffee. Communicating well is a gift; a gift of great leaders.

In the book we have been discussing over the last few weeks, Seven Pillars Of Servant Leadership, the authors say that being a skilled communicator is an essential trait of a servant leader. I want to stand up and applaud – for my experience so completely supports this premise. Yet I have met so very many leaders that were not skilled communicators primarily because they were too busy thinking of themselves.

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
~ George Bernard Shaw

Demonstrate Empathy

A gifted communicator always expresses empathy toward the people they are communicating with, just as I experienced with Ken Blanchard and Colleen Barrett. They spoke in a way that connected with me. They had taken the time to get to know the audience.

Then they prepared the stories, facts and examples that would connect with the group. They were demonstrating empathy in the way they communicated. Sipe & Frick tell us that empathy enables us to establish bonds of trust and caring with our colleagues and customers, to meet them with our hearts as well as our minds, and to influence them to faithfully follow our lead.

Empathy is not niceness or feeling sorry for someone. It is stopping long enough to see the world from the other person’s perspective. It requires setting aside your own history and point of view until you know theirs. Ask questions. Listen Carefully. Reflect on the things they tell you. Respond authentically. Build a genuine connection with the other person.

Invite Feedback

If you are like most people, you don’t enjoy asking for feedback. It’s stressful. But a skilled communicator asks for feedback and sees it as an opportunity to improve. A few weeks ago, I asked a colleague to read a presentation I was preparing to give at a conference. I wanted to see what parts of the presentation resonated with another leader and what sections needed more work. But even though I asked for the feedback, I found myself a bit anxious awaiting the response. But my colleague knew how to give great feedback:

  • Respond Quickly – His note came back in an hour
  • Be Supportive – His first comment was encouragement that I was on the right track
  • Nonjudgmental – Nothing he said was harsh or condescending in tone
  • Specific – Each comment had a page number and a specific suggestion
  • Just The Right Amount – The feedback was not overwhelming, I was able to accommodate his input
  • Say Thank You – He effusively thanked me for the opportunity to contribute and wished me well

This kind of feedback is what you need as a leader to continuously learn and improve your communications.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
~ Ken Blanchard

Communicate Persuasively

This was my favorite section of the chapter on skilled communication. As John Maxwell often says, “all leadership is influence.” And therefore, all outstanding leaders must learn to communicate with persuasion. 

There is nothing manipulative about influence or persuasion. You are simply making the case for what you believe to be the best path forward. 

It is up to the listener to decide whether to agree and follow. Your job as the communicator is to address these three essential components of persuasive communications:

  • Smart – What is the logical, rational appeal?
  • Heart – What is the emotional appeal?
  • Character – What makes your appeal credible and trustworthy?

Like many aspects of leadership, these are proven techniques for making your case. They were first written about in the fourth century B.C by the great philosopher Aristotle. That’s good enough for me. Test your communications by these three viewpoints of your audience and see your influence grow.

A skilled communicator serves the people well. They listen. They ask for feedback. They influence persuasively.

0 Responses

  1. As I strive to be a great leader, I always struggled with empathy. Some feedback I have gotten said I was not empathetic enough while others said I was very empathetic. So with this confusion I set out to fix my empathy problem with limited success. However, these sentences finally made the light bulb go off “Empathy is not niceness or feeling sorry for someone. It is stopping long enough to see the world from the other person’s perspective. ” seeing the world from someone else’s perspective so that you can fully understand what they are communicating and how best to communicate with them. I just had an experience that highlighted that. I was saying to my mom that when I speak with my mentees they rarely ever respond or it is a struggle to get them to respond but when I speak to my daughter, she responds. Then I repeated the sentence I said to my mentee which didn’t get a response and my mom said maybe they didn’t understand me. At first I thought, my daughter would understand and then I realized my daughter’s vocab is more developed than theirs. I failed to communicate because I was communicating to myself not to my audience – I got it, I need to use different words. That moment, I realized that maybe when I am not getting response it is because I am using too complex words when simple words would be more effective! Know your audience. Great learnings from this post!

    1. Stephanie,
      I think empathy is the result of intense listening to hear the perspective of another person. Then as leaders we craft careful questions that help our people discover the answers themselves. My biggest challenge as a leader is to remember to stop talking and start hearing.

  2. Isn’t it interesting how looking at words differently can help one succeed? At Barnes & Conti, we define influence as something you do openly, moving someone to take an action that will benefit both parties. Manipulation is done “under the table” toward achieving a one-sided result. Looking at strong words like influence in a positive light always yields better results. I like that you clarified how influence is not manipulation. We look forward to your comments.

    1. Rebecca, I enjoyed your comments, particularly the thought that manipulation yields a one-sided result where influence leads to an outcome that benefits both parties. Like you, I love the precise use and definition of words. Thank you for sharing. Cheryl

  3. As one of your franchisees I just wanted to say that is an honor to have you as our CEO. You are a great influence on myself and I enjoy putting your words to use in my Restaurants. Thanks

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