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The Words and the Music – A Leadership Issue

The phrase, “Action speaks louder than words” is often a common expression. The truth of it has been proven over and over, again and again. Virtually every executive staff I’ve ever come across believes in teamwork. At least they say they do. Sadly, a scarce few of them make teamwork a reality in their organisations; in fact, they often end up creating environments where company politics and departmental silos are the norm. And yet they continue to tout their belief in teamwork, as if that alone will somehow make it magically appear. How can this be? How can intelligent, well-meaning executives who supposedly set out to foster cooperation and collaboration among their peers and staff be left with organisational dynamics that are anything but team-oriented? And why do they go on promoting a concept they are so often unable to deliver? Contrary to conventional wisdom, teamwork is not a virtue in itself. It is a deliberate strategic business choice, not unlike adopting a specific business model or financial strategy. And certainly, when properly understood and implemented, it is a powerful and most beneficial tool. However, many executives/managers preach teamwork but do not set an example or demand that their people live it – their words and their actions, their music contradict each other. That creates three big problems.

Hypocrisy – First, they are inducing a collective sense of hypocrisy among their staff, who feel that teamwork has devolved into nothing more than an empty slogan. Decisions relating to building effective teamwork are verbalised but execution is often delayed, or conveniently postponed.

Confusion – Second, and more dangerous still, they are confusing those staff members about how to act in the best interest of the company, so they wind up trying at once to be pragmatically self-interested and ideologically selfless. The combination of these factors evokes inevitable and sometimes paralysing feelings of dissonance and guilt.

Artificial Harmony – Third, a climate of superficial politeness is reinforced as an operational norm. Fear lies at the bottom of this. Fear of conflict. Rather be obedient and tow the line of authority, position power.

Cause & Effect – Leadership starts with the leader as a person. Leadership isn’t accidental; it is intentional and it can be shaped. Shaping it on a personal level therefore, the question is, what could be at the root of causing your words and your music to be in conflict? Four critical interferences must be considered.

  1. ‘Contact’ (poor sensory contact with the environment and with yourself). In situations like this you are probably not seeing, hearing, or feeling very clearly. Not being ‘in contact’ with your inner self and/or outside world. For example, most of us have been in meetings where two or more people are engaged in a discussion ostensibly about one issue, yet they seem to be talking past one another about two different issues. They are also likely not looking at one another.
  2. ‘Masking’ (holding back self-expression). Often, a person holds back or blocks his or her self-expression either by trying to hide the existence of certain feelings (sometimes even to himself or herself) or by inhibiting expression of those feelings because he/she anticipates negative reactions from others.
  3. ‘Denial’ (pretending or suppressing impulses) Frequently, this results in incongruent behaviour (not being straightforward), as when a person evidences feelings of anger or antagonism which others can sense (particularly through physical signs, such as clenched jaws or fists or being tense), and yet he/she verbally denies having such feelings.
  4. ‘Imaginings’ (thinking, theorising, and anticipating what is going on in someone else’s head) This is perhaps the most common interference. When our attention is concentrated on imaginings in our own minds about what is going on in others’ minds rather than on what is occurring in the environment in the here and now and our own feelings, we cannot be in touch with what we are presented with and will communicate double messages. (Words only 10% & nonverbal 90%)

In general, the most frequent obstacle to recognising our needs is our cognitive or mind-model of how we believe we should feel, think, and be. We have in modern life placed so much emphasis on what is logical and rational that we have become preoccupied with “figuring out the right answer” in our heads rather than seeing, hearing, and feeling what is really going on inside and around us, and responding to it according to its demand and according to what we have to do to meet our needs.

When your words and your music are in tune, you are the most powerful and people will trust you.

Sources: Patrick M. Lencioni – Five Dysfunctions of Teams; Stanley M. Herman & Michael Korenich – Authentic Management; Johan Cronjé, Specialist Coach in Organisation & Team Performance, Intégro Learning SA