Leadership remains, as it always was, basically concerned with communications. Transferring information - facts, values, ideas, and their meanings - is the heart of the leader's task. Recent technological improvements, largely in the computer and telecommunications fields, have made possible important new developments in the way leaders - indeed, all people - move information. The effective use of information transfer techniques is critical. Even more critical to effective inner leadership is the need to control the type and content of its communications to followers so that the leader's desires are realized in subsequent follower actions.
Several techniques are presently associated with the idea of attaining the inner leader's desired performance. Among them are electronic mail, cellular telephone technologies, image processing, teleconferencing, fibre optics, and the Internet. A detailed discussion of features of each of these techniques is not pertinent to this discussion. Nevertheless, these technologies represent new, faster, more generally accessible channels of communication delivery that will continue to enhance and extend the scope of influence of both leaders and led.
These newer electronic techniques also represent alternative sources of information available to followers, sources that may make inner leadership both easier and more difficult. These new ways to communicate multiply the inner leaders communications options and the speed at which knowledge can be transferred. For example, e-mail has opened multiple channels of communication and information flow. As a result, work-community structural boundaries have become fuzzier and corporate culture looser, less formal, and less important to work communities in the inner levels of the corporation.
At the same time, as followers use these nonleader channels to get needed information, the influence of inner leaders is lessened, since a traditional source of leaders' influence has been as prime conduits for external information needed by work-community members. E-mail focuses on the message, not the person communicating the message or his or her position in the hierarchy. It also breaks down barriers of gender or status in the work community. It takes away many normal formal social structural constraints.
While some of these factors move toward better communications systems, others may complicate, and even reduce, accountability for the communications between the leader and stakeholders. Nevertheless, these and the other communications techniques portend significant change in the manner and locus of leadership practice now and in the years to come. They do not change the purpose of most of the communications between inner leaders and their followers: to get them to think and act in ways the leader wants them to think and act.
Leaders are preeminent communicators (Bennis and Nanus). They are symbol users, whether it is words, songs, artifacts, speech, or something else. Leaders communicate meaning. Inner leaders make use of a specific kind of communication: persuasion. Mostly, they set and then communicate work community requirements via persuasion, not orders, instructions, or policy statements. Leadership by command is an outdated conception of the leader's task. The days when any leader could order employees to do the work and it got done are over if, indeed, this ever was the case. In fact, leadership based on and through the authority held by the incumbent is not leadership at all. It describes a management, not a leadership, concept. The interior world of the corporation today is one of interdependence, not dependence; of uncertainty, not order; of negotiation, not fiat; of persuasion, not command. This kind of a world demands leaders, not managers. And leadership success demands leaders who can persuade others, who can influence them to act and sway their opinions without resorting to traditional authoritarian force or compulsion (Gareau).
Much more effective in transferring standards and values is the technique of persuasion by logical argument. Leaders set the values context of the work community and convince stakeholders to accept the values as their own (Klenke). In doing this, they appeal to stakeholders at their inner, spiritual level. They couch desired values in task terms or in people terms or in a balance of each. In either case, the vision defining the work community and the attitudes about relationships with coworkers held in common defines the core of shared values that makes leadership possible.
The key is to persuade followers to follow the leader's lead. Gardner sees leadership as simply a process of persuasion and example. Through their communications skills leaders cause work-community action that is in accord with their purposes and, eventually, the shared purposes of all. This definition, common to many theorists, implies a developmental role and makes the process explicitly one of communicating to persuade (see also Bedell; Brumback; Gareau; Throgmorton, Mandelbaum, and Garcia).
Persuasive communication implies an interaction between leader and follower that involves engaging the minds of both. Persuasion, as a form of communication, is different from other forms. It implies equality, caring, and respect for the ideas and logic of those to be persuaded. Leaders in the middle establish and communicate standards via persuasion. Persuasion is much more effective in conveying standards and values given contemporary culture. It relies on the relatively bias-free use of logical argument. Inner leaders set work-community standards, teach them, and live them; and then they persuade others to live them by the example of their word and deed.
Persuasion is a common technique inner leaders use. It is an aspect of the leader's capacity to use power, the intent of which is to convince others to do what the leader wants them to do. Persuasion is a generic name for a variety of communications skills and techniques that have as their purpose altering another person or group to the leader's point of view. Persuasive communication may be directed to get followers to know something the leader wants them to know. Or it may provoke desired follower behavior or change followers' attitudes or values. This technique of inner leadership relies on another value system - rational discussion - and another range of resources - ideas, values, and ideology - than those mentioned to this point.
The act of leading in the middle of the corporation involves the leader in communication to change the values, the knowledge base, the logic, and thus the behavior of stakeholders to conform to the leader's vision objectives. Sharing that vision is accomplished in numerous contacts with work-community members as a group and in both formal and informal individual contacts with them. The intent of these multiple communications is to get followers to always act authentically within the constraints of group values.
Inner leaders practice persuasive communications techniques toward every stakeholder. They use persuasion upward toward their bosses, downward toward their subordinates, and laterally toward their peers, nondirect-line colleagues, customers, advisors, and other experts whether inside the corporation or not (Bedell). In the corporate interior perhaps more than in any relationship in which inner leaders participate, the need for sensitive persuasion to build collaborative relations is acute. The targets of the inner leader's persuasive communications may also be other inner leaders who are motivated by many of the same values yet seek similar goals. Most often these others are not obligated to cooperate; they will do so only if they receive cooperation in facilitating their own goals. That is, they have to be convinced that doing it the leader's way is also good for them.
In a sense, all interior interpersonal relationships are situations in which persuasion is the preferred communication technique. Inner leaders are constantly moving from a guiding position to a follower one and vice versa. At times they persuade others to do something they want them to do - to follow orders, to get them something, to laugh at their jokes, or to understand and respect their ideas and values. At other times they are persuaded to behave as a stakeholder desires them to. The operative aspect of the process of persuasion is in the personal relationship between one leader and one follower reiterated in a series of one-on-one relationships throughout the work community. Communicating to persuade is central to any interaction between coequal, independent, and interdependent people. It is a cornerstone of inner leadership behavior as practiced throughout history.
Persuasion can be effective in situations where both parties care about the result in similar ways. Persuasion is an egalitarian technique that leaves intact the free choice of the person persuaded. Persuasion is effective, requires little expenditure of resources, and (given a skillful inner leader), involves little risk. It is nothing more than logical argument - successful argument. It is a relationship in which one person independently weighs and accepts the ideas, instructions, and values of another who elaborates his position to the first. In this technique, the decision to accept the leader's argument is essentially unconstrained by considerations of penalty or reward (except via the logical results of this "desired" behavior).
When inner leaders use argument, they suspend use of force or the authority of position. Persuasion is a form of give and take in which both parties interact in relative equality. It partakes of the following characteristics, which also constitute steps in the persuasion process.
The individuals in a given communications situation typically begin with different views, information, ideas, values, biases, and the like. Interactive dialogue convinces one of the other's point of view and therefore causes that person to take action that that person would not otherwise have taken. The members of a given work community almost always differ in their talents, experiences, information, intelligence, and logical capacities. As they interact, they engage in relationships that employ the techniques of persuasion, negotiation, and selling others on their ideas. The context of persuasive communications is in the collaborative unit characterized by shared values, information, and goals. The skills are those of logic, argument, and negotiation.
Persuasion depends on capacities and abilities inner leaders have or control that give them an advantage in rhetoric. In a word, persuasion is the art of expressive speech. It is oratory. The middle-level leader must be more eloquent, convincing, and verbal than others to use it successfully in interpersonal situations. Properly directed, persuasion is an effective technique leaders master as they prepare to lead. It is one of the most effective and reliable leadership techniques in existence precisely because it is so common in social interaction. Almost every communication exchange involves both parties in trying to persuade the other to laugh, to cry, to like them, or in any other way to get the other to do what they want as a result of their words.
Persuasion is a discipline of the mind. It asks leaders to reason, analyze, and examine ideas, information, situations, and possibilities. It asks them to integrate sometimes seemingly disparate information into an integrated whole that is internally consistent and reflective of the core vision and values guiding the work community. Inner leaders are successful in building a work community when they can induce members to endorse, accept, and then incorporate the leader's vision and values into their own personalities. This task requires that leaders know their followers, know the work processes and the end results sought, and merge all into an intellectually coherent unity.
Part of the technique of persuasion is skill in the techniques of creating communications patterns between the inner leader and each work community member that encourages the free flow of discussion between them. Inner leaders share their core values, but they also share information about the joint tasks and encourage followers to do the same. Sharing data and information can take several forms:
Meetings - both formal and informal
Informal conversations with individuals
Electronic and printed newsletters
Inner leaders adopt an open, sharing, egalitarian mind-set about information, one of the most valuable resources under their control. Sharing work related data freely, however, is not the normal pattern of communications in many corporations. Rather, the norm is to hold data and release it only on a "need-to-know" basis. The pattern for many top leaders is to provide information to coworkers only if their task assignments specifically require a piece of information or other data. Psychologically, it is safer to keep information to yourself - especially negative information.
On the other hand, inner leaders share information about the history of the corporation, current status and practices, and future plans and alternative scenarios of action. They also couch these data in language that attracts others, excites their emotions, and arouses feelings of commitment to the work community. All information about the corporation - its work programs, methods, people, and plans - is potentially useful, even critical, to individual member success. Perhaps the most critical is future information. Inner leaders share their ideas about what the future of the corporation and its workers might be through their vision and all other statements they make.
On that measure alone, the vision statement becomes a vital element in leadership and a tool for persuading others to adopt it as their own. Indeed, keeping information about what future outcomes the leader envisions for the work community effectively thwarts any other efforts the leader makes to secure follower commitment to work-community effort, as this action effectively denies followers direction and purpose.
Communicating to persuade others engages the leader in a complex interactive communication process. Besides learning to be expert logicians and debaters, inner leaders understand and practice sophisticated techniques of interpersonal communication (Bedell). They are experts in selecting the message, coding it appropriately, determining the mode of transmission, and assessing the fidelity of the information to be received by followers. Indeed, they are expert in all aspects of this core human process.
Feedback mechanisms insure that leaders' desired messages are in fact received by followers. Feedback loops must be established and must be continually in play in any persuasive communication event. Feedback is an aspect of any communication that lets inner leaders learn how fully and authentically their messages have been received and understood by the receivers of those messages. Feedback mechanisms include active listening, requiring reports from receivers, observing resultant behavior, attitudes, body language, the manner of speaking, and a myriad of detailed actions falling into one or the other of these processes.
Persuasion is an interactive process that can enliven, animate, and invigorate followers and inspire them to achieve the leader's vision. Both people in this communication exchange are active participants. Each is free to influence the other as he or she sees fit and as his or her skills permit. Inner leaders' success, therefore, is the result of the quality of their ideas and their skill in persuading others to their point of view. While feedback is important in any communication exchange, it is essential in persuasion. The leader cannot know what his hearers are receiving unless direct steps are taken to find out what they think was said. Argument is futile - maybe, not even argument - unless both parties understand the logic of the other person. Only then can they set in motion further debate to make their case.
Leaders are symbol users who communicate meaning through interaction that involves engaging the minds of both.
Leadership is simply a process of persuasion and example.
Persuasion is argument - successful argument.
Persuasion is an egalitarian technique that honors the free choice of the person persuaded.
Persuasion implies equality, caring, and respect for the ideas and logic of the other person.
How does sharing information affect me in my inner leader role? My followers?
What would a decision to share information freely ask me to do differently?
What kinds of information should I share with followers that they do not now receive? Be specific.
What new mind set must I adopt?
What feedback mechanisms are in place in my work community?
Do I encourage feedback by my personal responses? How? Be specific.
Do I give feedback to my follows?
Learning to be an inner leader engages the individual in a variety of behaviors intended to persuade others to his or her point of view. The following may be useful to leaders to assess and increase their experience in learning to persuade followers.
Introduction. One of the key elements of exemplary inner leadership is the leader's persuasive credibility. Having credibility allows a leader to undertake the task of persuading others of necessary changes with sincerity and with followers' trust. Following are the elements of persuasive credibility.
Rate yourself on each of the items using the following scale:
_____ 1. I state my position clearly.
_____ 2. My coworkers and subordinates always know where I stand.
_____ 3. I listen to other people's opinions carefully and respectfully.
_____ 4. I accept disagreement from my coworkers and followers.
_____ 5. I try to integrate my point of view with those of others.
_____ 6. I encourage and practice constructive feedback.
_____ 7. I encourage and practice cooperation.
_____ 8. I build consensus out of differing views.
_____ 9. I develop my coworkers' and subordinates' skills.
_____ 10. I provide frequent positive feedback and encouragement.
_____ 11. I hold myself and others accountable for actions.
_____ 12. I practice what I preach.
Are there any items for which you have a low score? If yes, those are areas that you need to target in order to build your persuasive credibility. List items with a low score.
What can you do about them? Concentrate on clear and specific behaviors.
Develop short-term and long-term goals.
When will you know that you have improved?
How will you measure yourself?
In the Midland Toy Company two of the sessions in the ten-session leadership development program are concerned with the topic of communication and its importance in leadership success. Near the end of the first session, Jim Brown, head of the maintenance section, volunteered the comment that even though he found the topic to be interesting and agreed that it was important, something vital was missing in the corporation's training program. "As a unit head, my problem is that people just don't know how to listen," he said. "With a lot of my people after I spend a great deal of effort instructing them as to exactly what to do, they're just as likely to be doing something entirely different when I check on their progress later. What we should do is set up a course in good listening and have all our employees take it."
What do you think the real problem is that Mr. Brown is discussing?
Do you agree with Jim that communication can be improved by having people develop better listening skills?
Do you agree that such a course would be helpful in your work community? Why or why not?
In any communication situation, who has ultimate responsibility for communication success or failure? Why?
Is Jim Brown a good persuader? What role does persuasion have in this kind of communication process?
Do you think Mr. Brown is effective as a communicator? How might he be better?