Forward thinking: To convince or connect?

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    Loren Simmonds

    Growing up  . . .

    It isn’t always easy. As a newly elected public official, I entered office convinced that the ability to convince others of my way of thinking was the mark of a great leader. I thought I needed to demonstrate my power and strength by convincing others of my point of view.

    Let’s just say, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

    Then a funny thing happened on the way to growing up. A wise man crossed the pathway of my life and asked me a life-changing question. In short, he asked, “Loren, do you want to convince or do you want to connect?” That simple question changed my thinking about effective leadership in a lasting way.

    I suddenly realized making a deposit in the “relationship bank account” would get me higher returns in the long run and make me a far more successful leader. More important, I suddenly became aware of my addictive need to be right. Underneath my need to be right, I discovered a deeper insecurity… people might find out I really wasn’t as smart as I thought I was.

    This is the paradox of being judgmental. The more we demand that others agree with us, the more we are covering up our own insecurities. Leaders who are secure in their own self-identity and have healthy egos, do not need to make others wrong. In fact, they look at those who disagree with them as an opportunity to learn and discover what they don’t know.

    With the passing of time and considerable reflection, I have determined when we spend a lot of energy trying to convince others we are right and they are wrong, we may not notice how much judging, blaming, resentment and anger might control our life. Moreover, a leader who is addicted to being right will never be effective in the long run — nor will they be happy in life.

    Our society values strong and decisive leaders. This undoubtedly is a byproduct of our individualistic society and can fool us into thinking convincing others that we are right and they are wrong is the path to successful leadership. Not so.

    Unfortunately, many leaders fear they will be accused of being “soft” if they are not decisive. They attempt to convince others they are right, rarely listen and dominate conversations. This is the quickest way for quality people to leave the organization or the team. No one wants an arrogant leader shutting down their creative ideas and no organization can afford to have one person thinking for the whole team.

    When we choose to connect with others, we are building trusted personal relationships that will transcend the particular issue at hand. Our ability to listen, build common ground and learn from each other will expand.

    I would offer you a few tips about how to move from “Convincing” to Connecting:”

    • Notice how often you judge others and not just their ideas, but also how often you judge their dress, hairstyle or lifestyle.
    • Avoid being critical of yourself once you begin to notice how often you judge. It is better to smile and notice your judgmental habits rather than to criticize them. Awareness is the key to developing any new habit.
    • “Ask first and tell later.” This is another simple phrase that brings profound results. Your team and others working with you will begin to trust that you actually want their opinion if you ask first and tell second!
    • When you are in the convincing mode, ask yourself, “What am I trying to control?” This will give you a clue to what is driving your need to be right and allow you to face the fear that is controlling you.

    With the opportunities of a new year before us, I would encourage you with the following suggestion.

    Before you go into your next meeting or next conversation, ask yourself, “Do I want to convince or do I want to connect?” How you answer that question will give you a clue about what you hope to accomplish.

    Effective leaders connect more often than convince and dig for diverse perspectives in order to achieve more effective results.

    Until next time . . .

    — By Loren Simmonds

    Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

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