The Change factor

The keyword in the activity of a leader is ‘change’. Actually, the very secret of leadership is all in the leader’s knowledge that the world is permanently unstable, moving, changing. For so many people this understanding is unbearable, going along seeking stable landmarks and often setting up a steady life is a comprehensible and legitimate lifetime goal. A well anchored yacht in the middle of the bay during strong winds is mostly associated with a feeling of safety. Whereas the leader would head for the open sea, adapting his or her sails to the wind’s conditions (in heavy weather a boat is always more secure in blue water rather than near the coast, even if at anchor). If the desire of many is finding steadiness in life, the leader knows this is an illusion, life is constantly changing. Some of this permanent movement can be predicted but a good part of it is completely unpredictable. What makes the leader different is that he or she has found strong personal stability. There is an inner stoutness in the leader that allows the leader to accept the everchanging life and feel at ease in this setting. How leaders relate to change is key to understanding how deep and qualitative their leadership is, for a thoroughbred leader sees change as a natural element, permanently affecting his or her life. Change is good for a leader. From an evolutionary perspective these individuals that have found a strong inner stability and self-consciousness are in fact the best equipped to take on an ever-changing environment, to immediately detect the specific characteristics of that particular environment and change, and to enact an adaptive strategy and behavior. This is what the wild and winning animal constantly does, this is what the prehistoric and winning man constantly did and this is what the modern leader constantly does as opposed to those unable to detect and adapt sufficiently fast to change. Probably for this reason destined to lose and left behind in the evolutionary process. Of course, this attitude from a modern leader, directly shapes the future of an organization.

     Endurance to change is the most attractive and necessary characteristic of any leader. Like a sailor in rough seas – you will forgive me this last comparison with seamanship – moves completely at ease in the midst of a tempest as if it was the most natural of things to do, exactly knowing what he has to do and totally undisturbed by the roughness of the situation, the leader is perfectly at ease in a changing environment, planning and anticipating each move based on the existing conditions, undisturbed, swiftly taking moves onboard the organization, with an unparalleled elegance which comes directly from relaxedness and spontaneity. 

     Endurance to change, whatever the conditions, is probably one of the most charismatic aspects of a leader, this attitude attracts people who see in the leader a strength of its own, an inner stability and a consciousness, that triggers the beginning of the leader-follower relation and process. This relation starts not only because the leader has a clear vision but also because the leader acts like someone who has a clear vision, and everybody is immediately attracted by this possession of qualities, self-confidence and absence of hesitation. As a consequence, they want to go the same direction.

     But charisma is not an item you find in a museum. It is an active feature of everyday life. People sense charisma at all levels starting from the language of the body. Charisma dialogues directly with instinct but still, it needs to dialogue, otherwise it would be useless like sending out a message in a bottle with written ‘I am leader’. 

     The charismatic attitude of the leader needs to communicate. No doubt here is a solid link between leadership effectiveness and the leader’s communication ability. After all, leadership involves a relationship between individuals and this relationship is put into practice through communication.

     Charisma attracts and influences, qualitative communication seals the bonds. We have talked enough about charisma. Influence is, quite simply, the direct effect of the leader’s charisma. The word influence comes from the ancient Latin influĕre, whose meaning is ‘flowing inside’: the attitude of a charismatic leader flows inside people, enlightening them to the leader’s vision. It is a completely natural process that begins as the relation between leader and follower bonds. this process can be learned but, as we’ve seen, not with external influencing techniques which are marginal, rather by developing one’s own inspiration and pursuing one own’s vision, which will eventually make the leader charismatic and thus influencing. Communication is key to leadership, there is no leader without communication. 

     The leader should have two communication aims and in relation to these the leader should develop the communication strategy:

  1. Communicate himself or herself;
  2. Make others participate to vision, action, passion.

     A leader’s communication constantly works on two separate levels: a primary level which expresses essentially the leader’s inspiration and a secondary level which expresses strategy and action. Whatever the situation and the ongoing discussion these two levels should always come out clearly at the same time. For instance, if you’re discussing with the team of a technical issue, nonetheless the primary level will be clearly conveyed along with the technical discussion. A good leader communicates at both levels anytime, even during a coffee break talk. The primary level communication is essential, it is a mind opener, it inclines the listener toward your course of action, it prompts the listener to move autono- 

mously along that course. 

     Communicating the self means being fully transparent at any cost and at any risk. Simply be yourself. Not a friend, not a father, not a colleague but a leader, separate from the group but involved in the group. Genuineness is the fastest and most effective communication technique. This will bring your inspiration exactly at the center of the floor and will naturally attract and arrange the team in a circle around your inner stability and the truth of your project. Your words will then only confirm to listeners what they are already understanding. The team will constantly find in your approach to the discussion and through the words you use a ‘continuity’ an ‘attachment’ to your vision and the course you decided, which they will want to share. Any discussion, obviously including critique or doubt, will then be positive and functional to implementing the project. It all starts from your inspiration.

Communicating your vision, making others participate to your action (the second communication aim), means constantly relating any conversation at any level to the wider project. Everybody involved needs to know they are working for a change that requires several steps, not only the one currently in discussion. In a way, the duty of the leader is to take the inspiration of each individual in the team away from the single issue, by giving the example personally. As the single issue is being discussed, the souls of the team should all be projected forward towards the achievement of the project, they need to constantly see the whole project, to share maybe with less overview but still share as much as possible of the vision. This completely changes everybody’s approach to each step, improves by far the organization’s results, sets the mood of the discussions at a fully shared level, directs thoughts towards the results. This approach is also effective in terms of removing common high-level communication problems. The leader’s vision can be flawed by background noise (contingent problems which alter the message to the team), bias, uncomplete understanding (for example cultural differences within the team) or misunderstandings determined by personal issues of each member of the team, operational or technical misunderstandings. In these cases, it is always the leader’s responsibility to make sure that the message reaches out exactly as it was intended and if it does not, it is the leader’s responsibility to reformulate or adapt the message so that his or her vision clearly reaches each listener. This is a game changer but can only happen if the leader constantly exerts a silent influence on the team, taking everybody towards his or her vision and the change it brings. 

     Enthusiasm is the key instrument both for the primary level communication and the secondary level communication. When an influential leader speaks to you, even before you begin listening and rationally render the thoughts expressed, you feel chosen and you understand that you have been given a special opportunity to go along with the leader. One of the key elements of involvement is enthusiasm. A leader is enthusiastic and sparks enthusiasm in those participating to the project. The word enthusiasm comes from the ancient Greek ‘en’ and ‘theos’ which means having the gods by your side, inspired by the gods. Here god is intended as spirit. Enthusiasm has nothing to do with optimism, which is a sort of smiling confidence on the future and hopefulness in the success of a project. On the contrary, enthusiasm often bears no smiles and no expectations. Enthusiasm is a strong, sometimes even frowned, determination in a leader’s actions, that arises from a vision. That vision gives motivation and inspires others to roll up sleeves and get to work because the idea is right, the change is good. Risk is always involved in enthusiasm because an enthusiastic leader knows he or she is taking a new path and is moving in uncharted territory. But it is not a gamble, it is the uncertainty of pioneers on their way to the shining sea. Enthusiasm bears the spirit of adventure. And that is why it is a trait of the leader.

The Personal communication Model

     The above arguments inevitably bring us to the choice of communication model for a leader. Productive com-munication is not a one-way process. It is a trust building operation that progressively brings each listener toward you, in terms of opening their ears to your words and sharing your concepts. Your message should not only be received, it should be shared. The leader should always be direct, there should never be any filter in the words of a leader. Pass your vision straight as it is. The optimum in communication is the transfer of your thoughts and emotions, without any possible filter, from one individual to another individual. Let them react with surprise to your words for straightforward as they are even when describing emotions, let them think ‘what is he saying? What is he doing?’. Let them remove all barriers by them-selves as they instinctively realize you are talking your soul. They will be drawn towards you and will want to stay with you and understand what you are saying. Then you can explain as much as is necessary, you can adapt your language to the other as much as it is required, but always start straight, unfiltered. 

     We know that there are different leadership styles. We know that leadership styles are mainly defined by the way the leader relates and communicates to the team. The effectiveness of the transfer of information from one individual to another determines the effectiveness of a leadership. Throw away all you have learned about leadership styles, behaviors and techniques. Your style, your model, is you. The moment you approach somebody fully direct in communication, is the moment your leadership is mostly effective.