Learning from the Persuasive Genius of Great Leaders
by Elizabeth Doty for Strategy + Business Magazine:
Elizabeth is a network fellow of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and founder of Leadership Momentum, a consultancy that focuses on the practical challenges of keeping organizational commitments
“Mike, I know you are a star player,” said the senior executive to his newest vice president. “But there’s something I want you to think about.” He placed a single sheet of paper on the table between them: a cartoon of two people in a boat. One is bailing furiously as water pours in through a hole in the bottom, while the other sits high up on the other end, saying, “Well, at least the hole isn’t in my end.” After a brief pause, the CEO continued, “This is what is actually happening when your group makes decisions without considering the impact on the company as a whole. I know you trimmed customer support expenses significantly last year. But now I hear we are losing customers because their experience is not up to par. Does that make good business sense to you?”
The particulars of this conversation are a composite of many examples I have seen of great leaders creating “light bulb” moments. The executive in this story did not rely on facts alone to make his point. Instead, he offered a new frame for what those facts meant. In my 20 years as an executive coach and advisor, I’ve found that such “framing” is one of the common threads behind great leaders’ persuasive genius—both in formal presentations and one-on-one conversations. Simply put, a frame is a lens for interpreting events, a way of making sense of complex, messy experiences, so we can communicate and take action. As Gail Fairhurst wrote in The Power of Framing (Jossey-Bass, 2010), framing is “defining the situation here and now in ways that connect with others.”
The good news is that it is a technique that anyone can learn.
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