Developing Leadership

One of the most crucial skills to have as an effective leader is good communication. To develop greater leadership skills, one must personally develop.Read the Personal Communication chapter in Developing Nonprofit and Human Service Leaders (Watson & Hoefer, 2014). The chapter discusses the importance of three fundamental topics:
Active listening
Management of emotions
Delivering memorable messages
As you read this chapter, reflect on the following:
How would you characterize your own active listening skills? What are some specific areas you wish to improve in when it comes to being an active listener?
What areas of emotional management would you like to improve? How do you think this will help you as a leader?
How might storytelling be beneficial to you in a leadership role? What are some ways you can improve your own delivery of important information to ensure comprehension?
Of the three areas discussed, which do you feel is most valuable to a leader? Why?
Include your answer to each numbered question in a Word document. The focus for this assignment is on the quality of your answers, not how they are formatted.ReferencesWatson, L. D., & Hoefer, R. A. (2014). In C. Forrest (Ed.), Personal communication. Developing nonprofit and human service leaders: Essential knowledge and skills (pp. 53-50). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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Personal Communication
ccording to research, oral and written communication skills are among the most
important skills for nonprofit leaders to have (Hoefer, 2003). This chapter provides
information about understanding what you want to communicate and communicate well, primarily in one-on-one and collegial situations. Communication is such a vital
skill for nonprofit leaders that we also have Chapter 13, “Persuasion,” and Chapter 14,
“Advocacy,” which also deal with communication. Those chapters are geared toward communication with the purpose of moving others to agree with you and to take certain actions.
The skills in this chapter are important for being able to be persuasive as well, so these
interpersonal skills really form the foundation for communication of all types.
Before moving forward, it is important to remember that the techniques of “communication” are rarely important for their own sake. Communication, at its core, is sending and
receiving messages—messages of praise, correction, affirmation, hope, affection, or belonging, for example. Leaders must know the techniques of effective communication to make
connections with others within and outside their organization, and to provide a means of
accomplishing organizational goals through the work of those others. The most well-written
and delivered speech, for example, even if it is a wonderful application of “communication
theory,” will fall flat if personal connection is not made.
In this chapter, we have three underlying topics. First, we examine the need for managers to use active listening techniques; second, we examine management of emotions;
finally, we look at storytelling as a method of making your message resonate. All of these
techniques, when used to communicate with others, are important in developing your
leadership capacity.
Arguably the most important skill for effective personal communication (as a manager
or otherwise) is to be able to use active listening. Based on the work of Carl Rogers, this
process is seen as part of a manager’s job, but the listener must have true empathy for
and trust in the speaker’s ability to self-direct, or else it is impossible to truly listen
actively. Rogers and Farson (1987) indicate that active listening is “the art of listening
for meaning” (p. 1) and that this requires careful listening, but even this alone is not
Active listening, according to Rogers and Farson (1987), brings about better selfunderstanding for the speaker who becomes “more emotionally mature, more open to their
experiences, less defensive, more democratic and less authoritarian” (p. 1). The listener also
benefits by obtaining more information from the speaker, developing deep positive relationships, and constructively improving attitudes.
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To achieve these results, the active listener must use the following techniques.
•• Listen for meaning, not just content. Messages and conversations have content, but
content can be surrounded by additional contextual information. For example, a colleague
could tell you, “I just completed the quarterly report for the new project we’re starting,” and
you would be likely to give a positive response. Suppose that colleague told you instead, “I
finally got done with the quarterly report for the director’s pet project—now I can do some
real work!” You would probably understand that a significantly different set of meanings
was intended by your colleague. Even if you gave the same content response, such as
“Congratulations!” it might be construed differently in the two situations by your colleague.
In the first situation, you might find the meaning given to your word as a straightforward
and supportive acknowledgement. In the second situation, however, your coworker might
assume you are being ironic, which could still be seen as supportive, but might be interpreted
as disrespectful by the director if you were overheard.
•• Respond to feelings. For active listening to take place, you must let the speaker know
that you have comprehended both the content of the statement and the feelings that
emerge with the content. In the same example, you could be a better listener if you replied,
in the first instance, “Congratulations! That must feel good to have that finished!” and, in
the second, “You sound like you’re not too happy with having to do that job. It must be
a relief to move on to something else.” Neither of these responses takes much longer to say,
but both indicate that you are trying to understand how your coworker feels about what
has just been said.
•• Note nonverbal cues. Communication happens through many channels, including
voice tone, speed of talking, volume level, vocal hesitations, facial expressions, hand gestures,
and other body language. To completely understand someone else’s meaning, you must
decode what all these nonverbal signals mean.
While the benefits of active listening are many, there are at least three reasons why people
do not listen actively. Multitasking is a common behavior where we try to do something else
while the speaker is talking. This frequently results in miscommunication because important
nonverbal and emotional cues are not noticed. It is best to lay aside other things and focus
on the speaker when you wish to listen carefully. Some people are unable to actively listen to
a speaker because they are formulating their own responses to the previous statement the
speaker said. They may even be lining up the reasons why the speaker is wrong instead of
following along with what is being said. Remember that you are not engaging in a debate,
but rather attempting to understand the other person’s viewpoint.
Another barrier to active listening that frequently occurs at work is that the person speaking is of lower status than the listener. While we would all like to believe this is not true about
ourselves, the facts are otherwise. Our supervisors and leaders usually receive our attention
because what they say can affect our job situation positively or negatively. It is more difficult
to listen attentively to someone who reports to you, particularly when you have a lot of other
work to complete. It can be even worse if the person speaking is in a different department or
is unknown to you. Unfortunately, we may respond to communications from clients with a
lack of attention as well. Despite our best intentions, we may also harbor biases and prejudices about certain populations that get in the way of listening to them. The best way to guard
against these tendencies is to stay aware of our own biases and to feel deeply that each person
has inherent worth, just as Carl Rogers taught.
Becoming skilled in active listening techniques will not solve every problem you encounter
as a manager. You will still need to work with employees who are not performing well. Some
employees may expect you to understand them using ESP, so they don’t need to explain to
you what they are thinking. This is a challenge. Over time, however, using active listening
will make your job easier because you will at least understand what your coworkers want
to tell you. This will go a long way to making every day smoother because your colleagues
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Copyright © 2014. SAGE Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or
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Personal Communication
will learn to trust that you will listen to them before you make decisions that affect them.
Your colleagues will have seen you seeking to understand their views first before you take
action. Even if they don’t agree with your final decision, they will be more likely to follow
your lead because their ideas have been heard.
Related to the need to be a skilled active listener, and thus to understand what other people
want to communicate, is the need to manage your own emotional self. While the idea of
emotional intelligence is currently heatedly debated on both conceptual (Eysenck, 2000;
Locke, 2005) and methodological (Brody, 2004) grounds, managers need to understand their
own emotions (as they occur) and be able to handle them appropriately. Managers and leaders are frequently put into positions where conflict is either raging or bubbling under the
surface. Frequently, tough decisions must be made. The outcomes of these decisions can have
severely negative repercussions for some people—staff members might be laid off or fired,
client services reduced, or programs eliminated entirely.
Even if you have used active listening to its fullest, sometimes people are going to be very
distraught and angry. They may yell at you, threaten you, or start other unpleasant or even
dangerous situations. It is at times such as this that your ability to notice how you are feeling
(angry, frightened, irritated, afraid, withdrawn, and so on) is vital. Strong emotions can result
in an “emotional hijacking” (Goleman, 2006) where your feelings literally avoid the rational
parts of your brain and affect your “primitive brain” directly. Such a hijacking can cause you to
invoke the “flight or fight” response, which motivates you to run away or to lash out. Hormones
and adrenaline are immediately released by your body, which then stimulate action without
thought. While this type of reaction is important if one is about to be attacked by a predator, it
has less use in a nonprofit office. Being unable to take control back after an emotional hijacking
can be quite damaging to your career and have negative effects for your organization.
In this type of situation, being able to note and classify your emotional state allows you to
re-route your hijacked brain so that your thoughts go through the rational parts of the cortex,
and allows you to regain the ability to think logically about how to respond to the perceived
danger you face. It may be that you are not threatened nearly as much as you first thought.
Taking the time to calm down enough to think again will usually save considerable amounts
of time later on as you will not need to retrace your steps or attempt to undo hasty actions.
Once the emotions are noted, they have less power to control you. You can also take four
additional steps when confronted with an emotionally difficult situation at work. First, take
control of yourself. If you are not under control, you won’t be able to assist others. One way
to manage yourself is to breathe deeply and slowly, forcing oxygen into your system (which
is good for thinking) and preventing you from rashly taking action. In situations like this, it
is better to take slow steps, even taking a step back mentally, than to jump ahead quickly
without thinking things through. Second, you can also take a few moments to think about
how you would like the situation to end and the steps you can take to achieve that preferred
end. Third, by engaging your active listening skills, you can determine what your colleague
wants from the situation. This act will take time and also help pacify the other person to
some extent. Finally, you can try to interject some humor into the situation. This must be
genuine humor, and preferably self-deprecating, rather than a sarcastic or snide sort of joking about the other person. While not always an easy thing to do, finding a way to comment
on something funny about yourself or the situation relieves tension and allows for a peaceful
resolution. Many times, a mild disagreement can escalate into something much worse, a
situation that causes lasting damage to relationships and job performance. These few simple
acts on your part can keep communication open.
As a leader, you will at times need to manage your team and their feelings in group (rather
than one-on-one) situations. You must be clear about your own feelings, as noted earlier, and
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you can use similar techniques to bring about good results in meetings. One of the more
important elements of communicating during group sessions is to be clear about what others
in the group are thinking and feeling. Often, when there is conflict within a group, or as
options are being discussed, frustrations arise if participants do not feel they are being heard.
You need to ask for clarification and use your active listening skills in these situations. You
should also ask questions and be willing to challenge ideas that are put forth so that pros and
cons can be brought out ahead of any decisions. In addition, it is wise to have the group
discuss issues such as what are “best case” solutions, and what alternative solutions are
acceptable. By separating out these two levels of results, solutions meeting different needs or
views can often be found. By modeling what you expect from others, you will help create a
higher functioning group. In the end, your final decision probably will not make everyone
happy. Still, if the process is open and people have a chance for meaningful participation, you
can usually retain good working relationships.
A final way to keep emotional hijacking from occurring is to take the surprise element out
of the situation. It may not be that your fight-or-flight response is related to the actual topic
(as conflictual as it might be) but rather that your emotions are aroused because of the suddenness or unexpectedness of the issue arising at that moment. It is often appropriate to take
a step back and request a short break or to schedule a separate meeting time for topics with
high emotional loads. You will have time to consider what you want to accomplish with the
discussion, as will everyone else involved. By lowering the stress levels for yourself and others,
better decisions will be made.
If you have introduced the concept of emotional hijacking to your coworkers and
explained how our emotions can bypass our logical thinking processes, leading to unnecessary escalation of responses to issues, everyone on the team can be on guard to keep the whole
group or a member of the group from succumbing to this common problem. It can even turn
into a group practice that a certain phrase can be used to signal to people that they may need
to check and monitor their emotional situation. When used in this way, the power of the
group is enhanced and individuals within it can be nudged by colleagues to become more
self-aware and productive.
Humans have used stories and storytelling since we developed the ability to communicate. It
continues to be a primary means for helping people listen and remember important messages
(Heath & Heath, 2007). Listening to carefully crafted stories has been shown to create changes
in the listener’s brain chemistry, increasing both cortisol (which focuses attention) and oxytocin
(which improves the ability to empathize and create feelings of care) (Zak, 2011).
Excellent stories have advantages for communicating ideas because they have a clear
narrative and so are easy to follow, they are concrete, they are credible, they contain a surprising element, and they pack an emotional jolt. Even mediocre stories that have just some
of these elements help people retain key, simple points that help them act in desired ways
(Heath & Heath, 2007). Stories are seen to be more captivating, conversational, outwardly
focused on the audience, entertaining, compelling, textured, and real than typical organizational communications (Hoffman, 2011).
Different types of stories exist for different purposes. Simmons (2007) describes many
types of stories that are useful to achieve different types of goals. We look at four here. The
first, “Who I am,” is useful when you want to get across your values and the kind of leader
or person you are. You open yourself up a bit to allow those around you to see who you are.
This type of story is important in job interviews, for example, when interviewers might ask
you to describe a time when you overcame an obstacle, or approached a new situation.
Political candidates have a well-rehearsed story of “Who I am” so they can connect with the
electorate, particularly as they start wooing new sets of voters.
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Copyright © 2014. SAGE Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or
applicable copyright law.
Personal Communication
A second type of story is called the “Why I am here” story, and can be related to the first type.
When you are a leader, people working with and for you want to know not only who you are, but
also why you are in your current position. You’ve chosen to be a part of an organization, in fact,
to be a leader within it. People rightly want to have insight into what you want to accomplish.
Teaching stories are the third type Simmons (2007) discusses. For millennia, the parables
of Jesus, such as the Good Samaritan, or the parables of Aesop, with the story of the Boy Who
Cried Wolf, have become shorthand ways of communicating the right way or the wrong way
to live. If you can encapsulate “best practices” for your organization in a teaching story, you
can be sure that the message will get through.
The fourth type of story communicates a vision. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”
speech is such a story, but so is John Kennedy’s speech about sending a man to the moon and
returning him safely. When you and your organization can develop a story of where you want
to go, such inspiration will help you keep going through even massive difficulties. In Chapter 6,
you will read about the value of an organizational vision. Remember that your vision is only a
set of words unless you can get people to act to achieve it. A vision story provides just the means
to make the vision “sticky”—easily remembered and thus capable of being worked toward
(Heath & Heath, 2007).
When you have an important message to deliver to your coworkers, a story might be the
best way to begin. When using storytelling in this way, you need to prepare—few of us are
able to speak extemporaneously in an effective way (although we can get better with practice). Good stories, even very short ones, often have the f …
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