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Article No.: 1904, April 1, 2019

Article Title: Finding Your Voice and Helping Others Find Theirs

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D, CEQC, SHRM-SCP

I’m sometimes in a quandary about how much leadership “power” I should assert and how much I should be collaborative with team members so they find their own power.  This is a topic I’ve reflected on often, and I experiment with finding just the right balance on a daily basis.Dr. Linda Gravett photo

In this article, I’ll share 8 ways of thinking that my research and practice indicate support organizational success and resiliency; leadership behaviors that are aligned with these 8 ways of thinking; and concrete approaches and tools that help leaders find their voice and their balance.

In my experience, leaders are built from the inside out.  That is, the way a leader thinks affects how he or she interprets the world and results in the strategies and actions taken on a day to day basis.  Each of us brings a world view with us to work every day which is based on past experiences and influences.  Before I make a leadership decision, I try to take into account just which influences are affecting the choice I’m about to make – especially if the choice is about how to leverage a team member’s skills, knowledge and talents.  This pause for reflection is very helpful because I resonate with a quote from John Dewey:  “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

For our 2014 book, Leadership in Balance:  New Habits of the Mind, Dr. John Kucia and I interviewed over 50 Fortune 500 company leaders and found that there are 8 ways of thinking they have in common.  These ways of thinking about leadership have a significant impact on how they make decisions about people issues, such as talent management.  These 8 ways of thinking are:

  1. Leadership is a relationship, not a position. 
  2. The leader embodies the brand promise. 
  3. A leader is motivated by company Mission; that Mission drives the numbers. 
  4. Collaboration must have a purpose. 
  5. Power, authority and responsibility should be shared outside the company hierarchy. 
  6. Teaching and leadership have a great deal in common. 
  7. A personal comfort with diversity is at the center of collaboration. 
  8. The challenge of leading change is not focusing on control.

These mind sets are different from some outdated ways of thinking too many leaders hold, such as “manage closely – don’t let people be on their own too long.”

Of course, a leader has to move beyond simply thinking about finding balance between authority and collaboration.  A leader must be able to engage in behaviors that get results.  In my experience as an executive coach, I’ve found that the most critical behaviors are:

  • The ability to articulate AND execute the company vision 
  • Emotional Intelligence, and in particular empathy 
  • Calm in the face of adversity 
  • Absolute, unwavering integrity 
  • Humility

Here’s why I note these behaviors as important for balanced leaders:

Individuals will be more engaged in their jobs if they clearly understand how their role and their contributions affect the company’s vision.  The vision can be mere words on a plaque in the foyer….or it can be a roadmap for how people channel their time and energies on a daily basis.

Whenever I conduct employee focus groups, the most prevalent complaint I hear from disengaged employees is that leaders don’t understand them; don’t ask them what they think about projects or processes; and don’t exhibit caring if they’re anxious or fearful of change.

If a crisis erupts, leaders at any level are the ones that employees look to for a steady, objective and calm approach towards resolution.  The leader sets the tone, helps others keep calm, and fosters an environment where solutions to solve the crisis can be generated.

Integrity means different things to different people; however, a fundamental description for me is this:  a person of integrity does what she says she’ll do.  A person of integrity upholds the core values that he has said are important to him, even when that’s really, really hard to do.

Bob McDonald, when he was CEO of Procter & Gamble, is one of the leaders John Kucia and I interviewed for our book.  He said, “humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less often.”  A confident leader is willing to let others share their ideas and explore their creativity – she allows true brainstorming and doesn’t allow brainstomping.

In my own experience, finding my leadership voice has required new ways of thinking.  Sharing power, authority and responsibility has allowed me to release my own energy as well as my team members’ energy; encourages diversity of thought; inspires innovation; and fosters a creative work environment.  The bottom line results have been increased productivity and profitability.

I’ll close with an approach that I use to facilitate real dialogue and invite team members’ ideas.  This is a list of what I call Quality Dialogue Questions, which are a series of open-ended questions with a blank at the end that team members are asked to complete.  I use these in staff meetings as well as one-on-ones.  Examples are:

  1. Our customers would be happier if we _____________________. 
  2. I’d like to see more __________________________ around here.

These questions, and your earnest attention to the answers, can help people find their voice and ensure the organization is doing all it can to be successful.

For questions or comments, email Linda at

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