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The third way of leadership: The four voices leaders use

Thought Leadership on The Third Way of Leadership presented by The Leaders Edge/Leaders By Design.

In this series of articles so far, we have established that the “first way of leadership” was masculine, created when men dominated the workplace. The skills practiced include: taking initiative; adapting to frequent change quickly; focusing attention on growth and results; attacking a problem analytically; preferring to control and distance yourself from emotional concerns; and deploying a large amount of energy to get work done.

However, given the recent demands of global relationships and a technologically advanced workplace, there are additional skills needed for success in business today. These include cooperating with others; listening; empathizing with the emotional perception of others; attending fully in dialogue; mastering language skills in the verbal, vocal and visual elements of messaging; being open to honest feedback and the honest opinion of others; showing respect even in disagreement or conflict; participating conscientiously, with proper civil standards of behavior; and considering short-term and long-term impact of strategic planning and policy-making. According to brain science, women fulfill the requirements of those skills.

Some may believe that this is an argument for a “second way of leadership” that is feminine. The downside of that belief is that the masculine skills are still necessary in the workplace as well. Thus, the “third way of leadership” is a blend of both the masculine and feminine skills, practiced by both men and women. With that foundation of understanding, we can now talk more cogently about voices of leadership.

Workplace skills according to brain science
Women Men
Talent for words Intense drive to succeed in competition
Capacity to read people using empathy and emotional sensitivity Understanding of spatial relations
Excellent sense of touch, taste, smell and hearing Ability to summon energy quickly
Penchant for long-term planning Can focus on a task without emotional distraction
Preference for moving toward consensus

Arguably, people in the workplace are regularly judging the voices of their leaders. More than likely, they like leaders who are strong and kind and dislike leaders who are weak and/or cold. If they have a leader who is strong and kind, chances are that under his or her leadership, the work environment supports work getting done, has open communication, uses the involvement of others’ opinions in decision making, and ensures that work is completed correctly.

Strong and kind leaders, whether male or female, use four leadership voices. Two of the voices are strong in regards to getting tasks completed correctly, but without “people skills” can be perceived as cold. The other two voices optimize positive and kind human relations with all others in the working community, but without successful task completion can be perceived as passive and inefficient.

It is not possible to use all four voices at the same time. Usually a leader dials up one of the voices, while the other voices are dialed down. Good leaders make sure that the voice they are using is the one that is relevant for the situation. So, what are these four voices?

First Voice: Confident task driver (strong on results)

This voice involves the task skills of drive, initiative and conceptual visioning and can be called the “getting it done” voice. When heard, this voice is felt to be an active, direct and assertive approach to getting results.

Second Voice: Persuasive communicator (kind with people)

The second voice entails the skills of good communication and sharing of information, keeping work progress transparent so as to encourage, empower and enhance the value of the people and the work. This voice is called the “getting it communicated” voice. When heard, this voice feels like an outgoing, gregarious and expressive voice of optimism.

Third Voice: Fully attentive and patient listener (kind with people)

The third voice is a participative voice that seeks opinions of other significant stakeholders in order to listen, empathize and fully attend to others in a respectful way. This voice is called the “getting others’ opinion” voice. When heard, this voice carries with it a feeling of a fully attentive and deliberate interpersonal exchange.

Fourth Voice: Accurate perfection seeker (strong on accuracy of task)

The fourth voice focuses on the analytics, details, logistics and accuracy of the task completed. This voice can be called the “making sure it is right” voice. When heard, this voice strongly emphasizes that things must be done the right way.

Please note some cautions about the four voices. There is a tendency to become an expert in one or two of the voices, resulting in the other two voices lying dormant. If one voice is overused, the perception of that person’s leadership is not positive. For example, if one or both of the strong voices are overused, the leader can be seen as a tank or a whiner. If the warm voices are overused, the leader can be seen as overly expressive and emotive, or too passive.

Examples of overuse of voices

Bull in a china shop Overuse of first voice

  • Appears cold hearted
  • Focuses only on tasks completed
  • Considered impatient, moves too fast and leaves others behind

Overly expressive Overuse of second Voice

  • Appears as narcissistic attention-getter
  • Overly expressive managers
  • Takes all the oxygen out of the room by seeking all of the attention

 Too passive Overuse of third voice

  • Appears as ambivalent and tuned out of work
  • Appears unmotivated and disengaged from the completion of tasks

 Whiner Overuse of fourth voice

  • Appears as negative
  • Impervious to feelings of others
  • Blocks progress with complaints

A Third Way Leader will adapt to use the voice that is most suitable, efficient and effective in the situation. To be able to use all four voices, one has to practice shifting between the right and left hemispheres in the brain. This might require taking a “left-brained” perspective on a task or a “right-brained” perspective on a relationship. (To see our previous piece on the male and female brains, click here).

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