Each month The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center (RCLC) asks leadership experts questions about servant leadership. Our topic for May is how servant leaders use persuasion rather than an authoritarian style of leadership. This month’s servant-leader experts are:
- Daniel Pink, New York Times bestselling author and named as one of the top 10 business thinkers in the world in 2015
- Tanveer Naseer, Award-winning leadership writer and keynote speaker
RCLC: A servant leader tends to be less authoritarian and more persuasive or influential. What are the pros and cons of each of these methods?
Daniel Pink: The problem with authoritarian leadership is that it’s a form of control. And human beings have only two reactions to control. We comply or we defy. But what most leaders really want from the people on their teams is for them to be engaged and committed. The way to do that, in many cases, is for the leader to serve the team by providing opportunities for self-direction, helping people make progress, and allowing them to make a difference in the world or a contribution to others.
Tanveer Naseer: One pro that comes with favoring influence over using authority to lead people is that your focus is less on you and more on how do you connect what matters to those you lead with what you need to accomplish. The con that leaders need to be careful of, though, is falling into the trap that in order to gain influence we need to be popular.
Remember, what people need is trust in your integrity to do what you say you’ll do and how you’ll support them to succeed. In so doing, you’ll be able to influence others because those you lead will better understand where you’re coming from. And even if they don’t understand the long view, they will trust that you have their needs and their organization’s best interests at heart.
RCLC: What lessons have you learned or have you observed that have affected how you persuade your colleagues?
Daniel Pink:Perhaps the biggest is attunement. I’m not sure we naturally take another person’s perspective, but I’ve found it’s a key to persuasion. So I try to get out of my own head and see things from the other person’s point of view. What are they thinking? What are their interests? How can I find common ground?
Tanveer Naseer: One of the lessons I’ve learned about how to persuade others is that you can’t approach it as though it’s a zero-sum game; that one of you has to lose for the other to win. If you want to persuade those you lead, you need to understand what matters to them. What are their pain points and concerns, and how does your proposal impact or address them.
The easiest thing a leader can do is fall back on their title or position as the reason why others should follow their decisions. While your employees may fall in line, they won’t be fully invested in the decision and consequently, they’re not bringing their best efforts to the table.
That’s why we need to be able to persuade those under our care by connecting what matters to them to what matters to our organization.
RCLC: If a servant leader has a strong vision about the direction the organization should take, can the leader move forward without consensus? Or will that undermine trust and influence in the future?
Daniel Pink: It depends. Sometimes consensus is the enemy of excellence. Wait too long to get everyone on board—and the train might leave without you. So the context is key here. There are certain high-stakes decisions that require everyone feeling comfortable and agreeing with the course of action. But in many other cases, it makes more sense to have a robust discussion and make sure everyone’s voice is truly heard — and then pick the best path, even if some disagree.
Tanveer Naseer: I think leaders can absolutely move forward with their vision if they don’t have consensus — if they are doing so because they know it’s the right path to take and not simply to serve one’s ego. We have to remember that at times it’s hard for our employees to see the long view because their focus is rightfully on the day-to-day. As such, our decisions might not seem like the best course of action.
But if we’ve demonstrated that our focus is not on being right, but on doing right by those we lead, moving forward without having consensus won’t undermine our influence in the long run because as things progress, your employees will begin to better understand why you had to take the stand you did. And that will help you to build trust going forward in the decisions you need to make on their behalf.
RCLC: Is persuasion a “one-size-fits-all” approach, or do you have to modify your approach depending on the audience?
Tanveer Naseer: As with any type of communication, it’s critical that you shape your message to fit your audience. And the reason for this is simple — it demonstrates both a respect for your audience, but also a deeper understanding of who they are and what are their needs.
When people see that you’re making the effort to better understand them and what they care about, it becomes easier to persuade them to follow your lead because they’ll see that you’re approaching this from a common perspective and communicating in a fashion that reflects what they need to hear to get on board with your vision or idea.
RCLC: At The Ritz-Carlton, leaders are encouraged to “lead by walking around” and therefore, have regular face time with their Ladies and Gentlemen. Does persuasion work for leaders who spend most of their time sitting at their desk and in meetings?
Daniel Pink: It probably works less well than it would if they got out there and mixed with employees, customers, clients, members, or whatever stakeholders they might have. Business writer Tom Peters got this right three decades ago. He called it Management by Walking Around, and I can see why it’s used at The Ritz-Carlton. The more you interact, the more you know and are known — and, in general, that can only enhance your persuasive powers.
Tanveer Naseer: I can’t imagine how leaders who spend most of their time in meetings or at their desk can be persuasive for the simple fact that they’re spending most of their time on things that matter to them, but not necessarily on the things that matter to those they lead.
Too many times, I’ve seen communal devolve into an arthritic culture of “Anyone can say no but no one can say yes.” Just because we involve a wide group of people in the decision does not mean that everyone will get their way—it only means that we are dedicated to hearing everyone’s opinion.
It’s also important to note that persuasion only works if there’s a relationship between the two parties based on understanding and respect. If you’re not spending a good part of your day walking around getting to know those you lead and their realities, you won’t have much influence as your employees don’t really know or understand what you’re about and what your real objectives are.
So while we might think that we can’t afford to do it, the truth is if you want to influence others, you need to get out and engage with those under your care. ∞
The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.