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by ManKind Project USA 2018 Chairman, Ed Gurowitz

There are lots of classifications of leadership style. One set of definitions I like is:

Autocratic Leadership: There is one leader and he or she makes decisions or gives direction based solely on his/her view of things.

Democratic Leadership: Leaders are selected by voting and make decisions or give direction based on polling for majority or plurality views of those who are being led.

Consensus Leadership: Leaders build consensus to have a group 100% behind decisions and directions.

Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages based on speed, degree of buy-in, and sustainability of the decisions and directions, but none are very good. Autocratic leadership can lead to rebellion and underground revolt, Democratic can devolve into political factions over time, and Consensus is notoriously hard to reach and fragile.

There is a fourth leadership style that, I believe, yields the best combination of buy-in, speed, and sustainability, and that is what I call Consultative Leadership.

In Consultative leadership, there is one leader who is ultimately accountable for decisions and directions. The leader’s key responsibility is to base his/her decisions on listening to and learning from various groups, particularly from those who will be expected to carry out the decisions and be accountable for the desired outcomes and from subject matter experts (SMEs) whose input will be critical to good decision-making. It is not the leaders’ job to debate with or convince these groups, but rather to explain his/her thinking, to listen open-mindedly to their input, and to then make the decision based on what the leader has learned. Others may be consulted or offer input without being consulted, and the leader’s job is the same with these.

Obviously Consultative Leadership places a high value on the leader’s ability to listen and learn. It will require the leader to transcend what has been called “automatic listening.” Automatic listening is binary – it is listening in terms like “do I agree or disagree with what is being said?”, “do I like it or dislike it?”, “is it right or wrong, good or bad, make me look good or not, etc.” The alternative to automatic listening is something that I think New Warriors do as well or better than most, “generous listening.” It is based in self-awareness, combining generosity and curiosity along with a keen regard for the vision, values, strategy, and mission for which the leader is responsible.

Generosity starts with the assumption that, no matter how odd something sounds to me or how much I initially disagree, the intentions of the person speaking to me are good and aligned with mine and the organization’s. Given that assumption, there must be something they are seeing that I am not, and so listening generously will expand my view of the situation about which I am to make a decision, or they have some facts I don’t have that will benefit my process. Alternatively, perhaps there are facts I have that they don’t and when they learn them, they will buy in more strongly based on our mutually aligned view. This is where curiosity comes in – once the leader assumes good intention on the other person’s part, he/she can’t dismiss their views, but must get curious as to how the person got to their position and learn from it.

Finally, the Consultative Leader will have to abandon much of our habitual way of listening. For one thing, most of the time what most people call listening is really preparing. We listen long enough to determine what to say based on the binaries of automatic listening, and then we wait to say it. The Consultative Leader has to actually listen with open mind and heart. For most people, most of the time, the test for whether someone is listening to us is agreement – if they’re really listening, they’ll agree. For both the Consultative Leader and the person being consulted, the test for listening must be learning – did I learn something? Do I understand what is being communicated, and would the person who is speaking agree that I understand?

In an organization or team that creates a culture of leadership as listening and learning, people will be engaged, feel valued, and gladly work with the leader as well as leading themselves. For me Consultative Leadership in MKP starts with listening for the gold in what anyone communicates to me, without regard to the form of the communication – I believe that every complaint comes from a commitment to the organization and what it is about, and may hide a request for change.

We have a principle in MKP – “ask for what you want, knowing you may not get it.” I’m a big fan of this principle along with two others – “ask for what you want, not what you think you can get,” and in Wayne Gretzky’s words, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So I’d like to hear from you and I promise that every request, complaint, and idea will be taken seriously and you’ll hear back from me or from the people responsible for the circle your communication touches. edgurowitz@mkp.org

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