Leaders need strength to be successful. While this obvious truth is widely recognized, opinions differ on what constitutes “strength.” In the eyes of many, strength means standing firm, winning your position, exuding confidence, and minimizing vulnerability. At PMC, our clients are often surprised to hear that we see vulnerability as a key source of leadership strength. Which is stronger, a leader who advocates a position and stands firm until others bend? Or a leader who advocates a position while remaining open to different views, even inviting challenge from others? Leaders who take the path of openness will naturally feel vulnerable. Paradoxically, this vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but rather a clear indication of leadership strength.
Paul Paese, of PMC, is delighted to be participating this month in the 2021 Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) at WashU Olin Business School. The WLF is a certificate program specifically designed to accelerate the development of high-potential professionals. In this program, women executives form a community of learners who come together for 6 two-day development sessions spread over five months. Participants learn from each other and the instructors, and develop relationships that continue long after the program ends. Paul will be teaching “Critical Conversations,” and he expects to learn as much as he imparts in this vital program.
We’ve noticed a consistent gap in workplace conversations. To convey understanding, most people use easy phrases like “I understand,” “I appreciate that,” or “I get it,” and often say these phrases repeatedly in an effort to show that they understand. Few go so far as to offer a brief re-cap by saying something like, “Forgive me, but let me check if I’m tracking…”, and then asking if their re-cap is on target. Why bother with the extra effort? Well, maybe you think you understand, but in reality you don’t fully grasp what the other is saying. Or maybe the other person can’t find the right words and could use your help finding them. By 1) re-capping what you think the other person is saying, 2) asking him or her if you’ve got it right, 3) repeating these first two steps if necessary, and 4) ultimately getting an affirmative response, you’re showing that you understand. This practice is particularly important when others have been talking for a while, and especially if they’ve been repeating themselves. While it may seem unnecessary to check your understanding when others have been repeating themselves, this is exactly when checking may be the most helpful. Why? Because repetition is often a signal that the other person doesn’t feel heard, or believes you’re missing their point. Paraphrasing and getting confirmation usually ends the repetition because now you’ve shown that you understand, and the other person sees that further repetition isn’t needed. So our recommendation is simple: If the conversation is important and your goal is to understand others and have them feel understood, show that you understand first. Don’t just say “I understand.”
PMC is proud to contribute to executive education at Olin Business School at Washington University. In addition to teaching in custom programs offered by Olin to single organizations, Paul Paese also teaches open enrollment seminars that executives from any organization can take. This year Paul is again co-teaching Leading & Growing Highly Effective Teams with Markus Baer. This two-day seminar will be held virtually later month. For a description of the open enrollment sessions offered at Olin this year, see the program finder.
The National Science Foundation has asked WashU at Brookings to provide instruction on conflict resolution to executives at NSF. WashU at Brookings is a partnership of the Brookings Institution and Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) Olin School of Business. Together, these two premier institutions work to deliver on Robert S. Brookings’ desire to “teach the art of handling problems rather than simply impart accumulated knowledge” to those in and engaged with government. The goal is to support the men and women who serve our country with cutting-edge leadership courses, either at the Brookings facility in Washington, DC, onsite at the requesting agency, or virtually. The WashU at Brookings instructor retained for this purpose is Paul Paese, of PMC. Paul will teach “Strategies for Conflict Resolution” virtually this month for NSF.