Interpersonal Leadership

Although several of these skills have been discussed in other contexts previously, they are sufficiently important to warrant their own section. Effective leadership is, after all, an exercise in interpersonal skills. Being able to engage with, and form bonds to, team members is a hallmark of an effective leader. A few seemingly-simple behaviors help any leader improve this aspect of their performance.

Three key components of a successful interpersonal leader are:

  • Modeling Values
  • Listening and Paying Attention
  • Asking Effective Questions

Following a session on interpersonal leadership, you can assist participants by encouraging them to revisit the themes of values, listening, and questioning over the next several weeks and months. Every time someone focuses on their values, they come away with new insights and depth. Similarly, each opportunity for improving listening and questioning skills will only bring the participant more skill. The image-based activities outlined in the Participant Guide are specifically designed to further
develop these issues and help the leader identify their own authentic answers.

Take a look at the Interpersonal Leadership Sample Agenda.

Modeling Values

Values in the workplace can be tricky. Each team member comes to work with their own sense of what is important. Yet the culture of the team also has its own set of values, and sometimes these can be in conflict. To what extent can leaders impose values on the team? How can developing leaders demonstrate what is really important?

First, the question of imposition. In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner write that, “unity is forged, not forced.” Imposing values on another person is rarely successful. Instead, the first step for a developing leader (after clarifying the core values; see above) is to “walk the walk.” If frugality is a core value, then the leader needs to be acting that way as well. If a value is diligence, the leader should be visibly living that value.

One way that you can help participants move from values identification to modeling is by guiding them through a process of envisioning what their personal work life looks like when it embodies the core values. As participants work through that exercise, first with images and then with words, a foundation is laid for real change in the workplace.

Listening and Paying Attention

As discussed previously, active listening is immensely helpful in building an atmosphere of trust and collaboration. Listening brings other dividends as well, however: when people are actively listening, they are learning. Even if the content of what someone else is saying is not new, the manner in which they are speaking can give the listener new insights.

To help participants improve their listening skills, you can pay particular attention to the Debriefing the Conversation step of the VisualsSpeak facilitation process. Direct questions to the listeners about their perceptions of the speaker, and then solicit feedback from others. How much of the speaker’s content did the listener take in? How much of their manner? By adapting the facilitation process to loop through multiple cycles of conversation (including several debriefs), you can help developing
leaders sharpen their listening abilities.

Beyond the act of listening, however, is another related skill: paying attention. In its purest form, this is often called “being present.” It reflects a state in which the participant is not thinking about a later meeting, what’s for dinner, or how well the earlier conference call went. The participant is fully focused on what is happening in the room at the time. To do this consistently and constantly is hard work; like any skill, it is tiring to do well at first. Helping participants with their focus will improve
their interpersonal relationships tremendously, however. It is also a skill shared by the best facilitators!

Asking Effective Questions

In a similar vein to the art of listening and being present, the ability to ask effective questions is learned. As children, we often have the right idea as we continually ask “why?” As we age, however, those instincts can be repressed in favor of being more socially acceptable. To be sure, no effective leader is a pestering child, asking “why?” all the time. But by bringing curiosity to work and sharing it with others, connections deepen and insights emerge.

Effective questioning requires forming the right question in the right context. Open-ended questions are most prevalent, allowing the respondent to provide information and context. Yes/no questions are helpful for verifying information and checking minute detail. The best questions are free of implied bias—as a leader, team members will parse questions carefully for bias, and may blindly adopt the leader’s biases as their own. This kind of “tunnel vision” can lead to stifled innovation, as everyone unknowingly slips into a similar vein of thinking.

You can most help participants in their questioning skills, first and foremost, by effectively modeling. Ensure that you as a facilitator are asking questions that are free from implied bias and as open-ended as possible. At appropriate moments during the conversation, pause to recognize questions that are particularly effective at eliciting deeper information and meaning. When debriefing, focus some attention on how participants felt about asking, and responding to, specific questions. These observations, when tied back to the workplace, can significantly change developing
leaders’ behavior.

Developing Great Leaders is also available in a printed version.