Your Leadership Story

The TYPE Reporter, Issue No. 90 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?"

When most of us think of "leaders," we think of other people. We think of those rare people who seem to have extraordinary passion, unusual intelligence, super-human energy and NO fear. When most of us think of leaders, we don't think of ourselves.

On the other hand, most of us, as we go about our day to day work, see some way that our workplace, community, country, or the world, could be improved, if only someone had the energy to do it. Most of us carry around a secret desire to make the world better in some significant way. We might complain that these things don't get done, or we may wish out loud that someone would do something about it, but we don't think that it's going to be us. We don't have the time, energy, skills or temperament to change anything outside of our own small sphere of influence. We're just not leaders, and that's that.

But what if being a leader wasn't about being super-human, or a certain personality type? What if being a leader wasn't about devoting your life, or risking your life, for a cause? What if being a leader was much simpler than that? What if all you had to do was speak and listen in a slightly different way, and suddenly, you would be connecting with others and changing the world.

That leaders speak and listen in a special way was something that my husband, John Scanlon, began to notice years ago. He is a management consultant, and helped run a program that invited successful leaders to come to Washington D.C. and speak to managers in the federal government who were being trained to be leaders. It was while listening to these speeches that he began to realize that successful leaders spoke in a way that people became excited about what they were saying and wanted to be part of what they were doing. What if that was all there was to being a leader, John wondered, the ability to speak in a way that drew people towards you, and to listen in a way that connected you with others?

Over the years, John, an ENTP, developed the idea of a "leadership story," a narrative that excites people about what you stand for. He began to discover that everyone, armed with a leadership story, can become a leader. Everyone can run a "campaign" to bring about important changes, even if they don't know how, aren't the "right" type, can't do it alone, and don't have a minute of extra time. Here are the lessons I've learned from John Scanlon on how to speak and listen like a leader.

To Speak Like a Leader

Use Feeling to speak about what brings you joy.
My sister had come recently for a week-long visit, and John and I were talking about her. "What does your sister stand for?" he asked me. "What do you mean?" "What are her passions?" he continued. "What does she lead people towards?"

It took me a few minutes to think about that question, but then it came to me. "She stands for nature!" I said. "Whenever she comes, she is coaxing me outside to sit in the back yard, to go for a walk in the park, camping in the mountains, or biking on a nearby trail. She does it with everyone. Wherever she goes, she gets people outdoors."

John's question made me realize that my sister is a leader. In fact, I'm surrounded by powerful leaders. I've often been "led" by my friends and family into new experiences I never would have had on my own. When my son's basketball coach said to me, "Can you be our scorekeeper?" I wanted to run away. One month later, however, I was actually good at scoring and proud that I could be of use to the team. When my friend said, "Let's get season tickets to the Performing Arts Center," I did it only to please her. A year later, my head was filled with beautiful memories of opera, dance and theatre. My kids have "led" me into dozens of unfamiliar worlds, including World War II history and gourmet cooking. My husband has "led" me into this topic of leadership itself.

We are all surrounded by natural leaders, and we're all natural leaders ourselves. If we think about it, each one of us can come up with a long list of people that we have led into new experiences or new lines of thought. I know I've led many people to psychological type, I've led my kids and their friends to the pleasure of writing, and just recently, I got my teenage kids hooked on independent films. Now that's leadership!

We become leaders when we become enthusiastic about something. We are having such a good time that we want to tell everyone about it. People can't help but hear us and get interested. Then we persuade them to accompany us, and they find themselves in places they never dreamed of going.

We are already powerful leaders without even trying to be. We all have the ability to get people trying new things and thinking in new ways. That's why, if we decide we want to lead on a larger scale, to influence hundreds of people instead of dozens, the first thing we have to do is something we already know how to do, talk about something that brings us joy.

That sounds pretty obvious, but it's not. For some reason, when most people think of changing the world, they start to talk about the things that don't bring them joy, the things that they are against, like poverty, wars, prejudice, the government, and so on. It comes out as anger, and people who communicate anger tend to spread anger, which doesn't lead to changing the world in any positive way, but to division and conflict.

John has watched people in organizations who present their thoughts as against something, and has seen how ineffective they are. For example, he told me about a doctor who will go to a conference of medical professionals and listen to the other doctors describe their goals. Then he'll stand up and say something like, "I respect everyone and admire their work, but if that's all we're going to do, it's not enough. We should be changing the whole way doctors practice medicine!" It's tough for other people to link up with him because he defines what he's against, but not what he's for. In so doing, he makes people defensive, and he muddles up what he's for.

"Effective leaders don't attack," says John. "In all my years of working with leaders, I've never seen them attack anyone. They attract. That's their secret."

For years, I've been wondering why, when I tell people that I'm against having public schools, they don't respond positively. They get defensive, they argue with me, or they just stare at me blankly. What am I doing wrong, I wondered? Everyone talks about how education failed them or their children, but they don't join me in being against the places where that happened.

I'm just beginning to realize, with John's help, that I need to define what I'm for, not what I'm against. When I looked inside, I saw that what I'm for is learning that feels like pleasure. Learning has felt like pleasure to me all of my adult life. I love reading interesting tidbits in magazines and bringing them up in conversations, getting recommendations from friends on books to read, getting hooked on a good television series, having a problem and finding the perfect book that helps me, listening to people tell me about a new place they've visited, talking to my kids about what they're learning or to my husband about a book he's reading. It's fun! It makes life worth living. I would like to extend that adult pleasure into the world of childhood, and see students enjoy learning as much as I do.

John tries to help his clients develop a "leadership story," and the first part of a leadership story comes from our Feeling, to know what we love.

"Throughout my career in working with organizations who are trying to make changes," he says, "their success has always depended on one person who was passionate and excited, drawing people toward them. Even in the most businesslike of settings, it's the emotional commitment of one person that inspires others to help."

What excites you that you would like to share with others? What has worked in your life? What has brought you joy? What would you like to see MORE of in the world? Those are the most important questions that you need to ask yourself to become a leader, because leaders are basically just people who want to share their joy.

Use Sensing to speak about your "defining moment."
I was telling John how discouraged I was that people didn't respond well when I talked about privatizing education. I felt like I had done a lot of thinking on the subject, but I couldn't share it with anyone.

"You can and you will," he told me. "That's an integrity issue. But you have to remember that most people have not had the time to digest all of this like you have. Start them where you started, with your 'defining moment.'" "What's a defining moment?" It's that moment when you first realized that there was a problem that you wanted to solve, a discrepancy or injustice. It's the moment where you chose to stand for something larger than you."

I remembered the moment when I discovered that learning was one of the great pleasures in life. I had just graduated from college and was no longer a "student." I was working as a buyer for a bookstore, and one day, I picked up a book that looked interesting from the history section and read it. Something in that book led me to read a title in the travel section. Something in that book led me to a title in the political section. On and on it went, until I felt like I was flying through the shelves of that store, being drawn to one book after another.

One evening, I was finishing a book and thinking about how much pleasure it had given me, when suddenly, a thought hit me like a lightening bolt. I began to enjoy learning as soon as I was out of school! Why was that? I realized that it was because finally, I was choosing what I would learn and following my own curiosity. All it took to transform learning from an unpleasant chore to an absolute pleasure was choice. Choice is what students need, I realized. Adults could give them guidelines and lots to choose from, like that bookstore was to me, but after that, students need to have much more control of their educations and to be making a multitude of choices all along the way.

That was my defining moment, the moment when I first realized that I'd like to share my joy in learning with the people who seemed to be most deprived of it, the students.

The "defining moment" is the Sensing part of our leadership story. It tells about a specific moment, with specific sights and sounds, so it lets people experience what we experienced. We can feel what they felt, and it can be a defining moment for us too.

Use Intuition to speak about the future you'd like to see.
John asked me once, "Where would you like education to be in 10 years? What would make you excited and proud?" I said that in 10 years, I'd like every American student to have the same freedom that I have, to be able to follow their curiosity wherever it leads them, and to be making choices all along their educational path, in how, where, what and from whom they will learn. It would make me excited and proud if I helped that happen.

Once I had spoken that vision out loud, it felt like I had been handed the blueprints, and now I could get busy doing the work! My desire to change the world was no longer an amorphous swirl, just bothering me; it now had shape and solidness, and beckoned me. All I had to do was put words on it.

Speaking of visions of the future, Mary McCaulley, the leader of psychological type, who passed away last year, gave a speech once that I considered to be the most inspiring words I had ever heard on psychological type. She patterned it after Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream," speech. She described the future she would like to see, where every parent, teacher, spouse and employer would understand the inherent value of the people in their lives, even if they were very different from them, and even if that value wasn't apparent at the moment.

We all have an "I Have a Dream" speech inside us, waiting to be let out. We all have a vision of what the world could be if the things that bring us joy were spread around.

Try doing what Mary McCaulley did, and write your own "I Have a Dream" speech. Create a picture of the future you would like to see, based on something that has worked for you and brought you joy, something you would like to share with others. Write a speech that inspires you, because if it inspires you, it will inspire others.

"Don't worry if it's grandiose and beyond anything you could ever do," says John. "That's what vision is…something radically different from the present."

Defining the future we want to see adds the Intuitive part to our leadership story, where we "see" what isn't there yet. It advances us from saying "I want to go somewhere," to "I want to go THERE."

Use Thinking to speak about your game plan for getting there.
After I described the future I'd like to see, John asked me, "What would have to happen for your vision to become real?" He got me thinking about a game plan, a logical sequence of events that would make that future happen.

"When you think about a game plan," he said, "it doesn't have to be something that you can do, because being a leader isn't about doing everything yourself. It doesn't even have to be something that you can tell others to do, because other people will generally have their own ideas about what to do. Just ask yourself what would have to happen."

I asked myself what would have to happen to get more choices for students, and I came up with this sequence of events…
  1. A book to introduce the idea.
  2. The book leads to discussion and network building.
  3. The network building leads to forming an organization devoted to continuing the discussion, through training, web pages and research.
  4. Student choice begins to show up as a natural part of education.
This is the final piece to our leadership story, the Thinking piece, where we design a game plan to lead us to our goal. It will probably not be the plan that we will actually follow, because changing the world is never a straight path, and when others sign up, the path changes. For now though, any plan will help us start turning ideas into actions.

Now we are ready to start telling people our leadership stories. We are ready to talk about what brings us joy, and the moment that we decided we wanted to share it. We're ready to talk about where we want to go, and how we plan to get there. We are ready to start attracting people who would like to help us. Speaking like a leader is only half of it, though, leaders also do a lot of listening, and we'll talk about that in the next issue.