Your Leadership Story - Part 2

The TYPE Reporter, Issue No. 91 written by Susan Scanlon

(The TYPE Reporter is a newsletter about your personality type, and how it influences you in all the stages of life. You can subscribe by contacting Susan Scanlon, INFJ, Editor, 703-764-5370, or on the website.)

"What if all you had to do to be a leader was speak and listen in a slightly different way, and suddenly, you would be connecting with others and changing the world?"

My husband, John Scanlon, has spent his career inciting people to leadership. According to him, each of us has a "leadership story" inside of us. Our "leadership story" is so compelling, about a change that would add so much to the world, that if we spoke it people would want to help us make it happen. "When I'm talking about a leader," says John, "I'm not talking about a supervisor or a manager, someone who gives orders or makes sure everyone is doing their job. I'm talking about someone who is able to enroll others to help them in a campaign to change the world. What they want to see happen is so much bigger than what they can possibly do alone that they need the help of many people."

In the last issue, we described how to speak our leadership stories. In this issue, we're going to describe how to listen to people as they react to our leadership stories, so we can help them feel involved and add their energy, skills, knowledge and passion to our campaign to change the world. (Susan Scanlon, Editor)


Use Feeling to listen for what makes people proud.
The secret of all leaders is that they know how to make people feel proud. They may make people feel proud of their country, race, religion, sex, the company they work for, the neighborhood they live in, the work they do, or even the thoughts they are thinking. Just remember how Jesus made people proud to be human, Martin Luther King Jr. made people proud to be black, and Germaine Greer made people proud to be female.

If we want to be leaders, and draw people toward us to help change the world, we should keep in mind that first and foremost, people want to feel proud. What we want to do is engage them in thinking about our ideas, but in a way that makes them feel proud and excited.

When John goes into organizations, the first thing he asks people are questions that make them feel proud. He calls them "effective questions," because they elicit responses from people that make them feel effective. His questions might be…

     What's working in this organization?
     What are you doing right?
     What are you proud of recently?

He avoids the usual questions like, "What's wrong with this company?" What are the problems?" and "What are you failing at?" because those kind of questions tend to make people feel anxious, ashamed and defeated before they begin. He has learned from experience that discussions based on negative questions go around and around and seldom lead to productive action.

After we introduce our leadership stories to other people, and have answered their questions about it, we can ask people questions that are likely to make them feel proud in the context of our ideas. For example, when I bring up my ideas that students should have more choices in their educations, I can ask people "effective questions" that are likely to get them talking about the educational choices they are proud of, like…

     "What are you most proud of having learned?"
     "What are you most proud of having taught others?"
     "What are you most proud of in the way you have educated your children?"

With these "effective questions," I'm helping people feel proud of their educational decisions, and showing them that they are the best ones to be making them.

This is the Feeling part of our listening. We're listening for what makes people feel proud and effective in the context of our ideas. As a result, we are "leading" them to find pride and excitement in our campaign. That may allow them, at the very least, to hear us, and at the very most, to help us.

Use Sensing to listen for where they are offering to help.
Once, I was telling a woman about how home schooling has allowed my children to have many choices in their education, and I wished that all students could have that many options. She responded by saying, "My son has written a book about how to reform the school system. You should read it."

I didn't express much interest and the subject was dropped. Later, John said to me, "Why didn't you get the name of that book?" "I don't want to read a book about how to reform the school system," I told him. "I want to get kids out of it. Can't she see that?"

"That doesn't matter," he said. "What matters is that she was trying to help you. If you want to be a leader, you should never ignore someone's offer of help. Even if you can't see at that moment how it's going to help you, it's an opportunity to keep the discussion going with that person. You don't need 'followers,' or people who agree with you one hundred percent. You need a large network of people who are aware of what you stand for, and who feel somehow involved in your campaign."

I realized that if I had gotten that book and read it, I could have followed up with a phone call to the woman, and kept the discussion going. I could have talked to her son, and initiated a new connection around the subject of education. Her son might have been able to connect me with even more people. I'd missed all of that because I was looking for agreement, not connection, when I spoke my leadership story.

On the other hand, sometimes people have heard my ideas about student choice and said right away, "You're right. I agree." I stopped listening to them too, because I felt satisfied that my goal was accomplished. I had gotten agreement. Getting agreement, however, doesn't change the world. Getting help changes the world.

"When you are listening to people's responses to your leadership story," says John, "Try asking yourself 'How are they trying to help me? Through their offers of help, how can I keep the connection going with them around this topic?"

Now, when I introduce the idea of students having more self-direction in their educations, and someone starts talking about a radio show where they heard about a school in Chicago, I don't ask myself if that's exactly what I'm talking about. I ask myself, "How is this man trying to help me?" I try to get a copy of the radio show and listen to it, and follow up with a phone call thanking him, so he both feels involved in my campaign, and is continuing to think about it and talk about it.

If a mother starts telling me about her children and how they could have used more choices in their educations, I ask her if I can interview her for the book I'm writing, which means she is continuing to think about my ideas and feels personally involved in my campaign.

I interviewed a remarkable leader recently, who was running a campaign to stop torture around the world. After a very moving interview, I told her how much I valued her work. I did not say, "I want to help you," because I was afraid of getting involved in something that I don't have time for. She must have heard the words that I didn't say, though, that I'd like to continue to be involved in her campaign, because after that, I started to receive e-mails from her organization keeping me informed of issues that were relevant to the abolition of torture. Because of those e-mails, I started to think more about the issue of torture, and notice things in the news. I started to feel like it was my campaign too, and to talk about it with others.

So that's how it's done, I realized, not in one statement of your goal, but in an ongoing, persistent statement of your goal, and by listening for people's desire to help, even when they haven't said the words.

This is the Sensing part of our listening, where we listen for how people are trying to help us. It extends our connection to people beyond one conversation, and draws them into our campaign.

Use Intuition to listen for common ground.
I saw the movie once called Dead Man Walking, about a man on death row. One scene took place outside a prison the night before an execution. There were protesters for and against the death penalty, lined up on opposite sides of the parking lot and shouting at each other. I looked at them all, and I realized that although they seemed to be at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, they both were there for the same reason. They both loved life! One side loved it so much that they couldn't forgive anyone who took it. The other side loved it so much that they didn't ever want to take it, even in revenge. I wanted to jump into that movie and tell them that they all wanted the same good thing.

Of course, it's easier to see the common ground between people when you're standing at a distance. It's not as easy when you're inside the conflict. Once, I was talking to a woman who had been very active in her children's education. We were talking about our ideas about learning, and I told her I'd like to see all education done by the private sector so that parents and students could have a great deal of choices. She immediately began arguing with me about the importance of public schools.

When we were driving home, I told my husband how discouraged I was that she "totally disagreed" with me. John surprised me when he said, "But you two have so much in common. You both agree that our schools don't engage kids' minds, and you both created completely new educational experiences for your children. You don't disagree at all."

He was right. We both agreed on the overall goal, to make education more engaging. She wanted to work toward that goal inside the traditional structures, and I wanted to work outside them. I wish I could have relived that evening with the knowledge that we often disagree on how to accomplish a goal, when behind it we agree completely on what the goal is. I might have found a valuable ally.

Now I try to remind myself often that even when we seem most divided, we're coming from a concern or passion for the same thing. I think that if you can find that common concern or passion, you can talk to people you never thought you could. By pointing out what you have in common, you can make people feel connected to your campaign, even if they seem to be interested in something quite different.

This is the Intuitive part of listening like a leader, where we look at the big picture and see where our values intersect. We remind ourselves and others of a truth that too often gets ignored…we all want the same basic good things to happen.

Use Thinking to listen for their ability to solve problems.
When we give people a new idea - any idea - the first thing we often hear is a long list of the problems with that idea. It can be discouraging and frustrating.

"People are usually reacting to the newness of your idea," says John. "You're hearing their fear of the unknown. You shouldn't argue with them and try to convince them they're wrong, or that those problems don't exist, because you'll only get more fear and defensiveness.

"If you want to get their best thinking and learn from them," he continues, "you need to ask them questions that engage problem solving, not problem generating, questions as simple as, 'How would you solve that problem?' If they are helping you solve problems related to your campaign, they will feel personally involved, and you will benefit from their knowledge and experience.

"For example," he continues, "I was running a conference recently and one of the trainers was complaining that we weren't giving people enough nuts and bolts information. I wanted to argue with him and tell him that our task was to get people committed to goals, not mired down in technical matters. I stopped myself and said instead, "Technical information would probably help people a lot. How can we get it to them and still keep their focus here on making commitments?' He started to think out loud and finally, he volunteered to make a CD with all the practical information on it, so we could give a copy to everyone before they leave, and they could use it when they needed it."

I tried this method on John himself. I got tired of trying to convince him that public schools were a bad idea. One day, I just said to him. "What if our society had decided that we wanted to move away from a system of public schools, how could we do it?" He started generating ideas for having public schools compete for public money with the private sector. As he thought about it, he began to realize that his system would either make the public schools more effective, or they'd allow for someone else to do the job better. By asking him to solve problems, and not just come up with them, I accomplished two things. I got some good ideas from him, and I got him, for the first time, thinking that competition for the public schools was a good idea.

If a woman tells me that she's opposed to choices in education because she works with poor children, and choices become meaningless if there is a lack of resources to choose from, or educated parents to help students make good choices, instead of arguing with her and giving her all my answers to that question, I can ask her, "If education were done by the private sector, how could we ensure equal opportunities for low income families?"

If a man tells me he's opposed to choices in education because his son has always hated book learning, and he knows that if given a choice, his son would never choose to read a book, I can ask him, "What do you think an educational entrepreneur could do to make your son want to read a book?"

This is the Thinking part of our listening, where we encourage people to solve problems rather than just come up with them. Rather than letting people discourage our campaign, we engage their intelligence in moving it forward.

Now, we're ready to begin listening like a leader, getting people to feel proud when they think about our ideas, pointing out our common goals, and making them feel that they are part of our campaign because they have helped with it. We're ready to watch in amazement as people start to offer their services, resources start to appear, and change starts to occur.

"Once you speak your vision," says John, "you begin to see the whole world through it. Then, you begin to encounter the things that can make it real. They just appear! They were always there, but now you can see them. It's as if it were waiting to happen, and only needed you to call for it."