Amiel Handelsman teaches leaders how to reach their full potential in his new book, Practice Greatness: Escape Small Thinking, Listen Like A Master, And Lead With Your Best. In part one of our interview, he talked about how any leader can be great. In part two, we talked about how leaders should constantly practice being a leader. Today, in the final instalment of our multi-part interview with Handelsman, he talks about effective arguing and how to foster an engaging work environment.
You mention that great leadership requires the ability to argue. What would a successful argument look like from a leader's point of view?
A successful argument involves four things. First, instead of debating who's correct, you realize that everyone has a different assessment or take on the situation. This is because most things we argue about are not facts but different interpretations of what the facts mean. It's just like temperature. Saying that it's 75 degrees outside is a factual assertion. It's either true or false. But saying that it's warm is an assessment. There is no way to prove it. A lot of the arguments we have in organizations is about whether it's warm outside. Except we think that this is a matter of fact, when really it's a matter of different assessments.
Second, when you give your take on a situation, you describe it as "my take" or "my assessment." This signals to others that you are not placing a claim on the truth, but merely giving your perspective. This leaves space for them to have their own take.
Third, you ground your assessment. "Here are the reasons why I assess this acquisition to be in our best interest." Or, "Let me tell you why I don't think he would be a good hire for this position." Grounding assessments is a powerful way of communicating. It also allows others to learn what's behind your thinking. It's a way of letting them into how you see the world. Conversely, ungrounded assessments are often worse than saying nothing at all. Other than the letters, "ASAP," they are the most pernicious source of mediocrity and suffering.
Finally, a successful argument involves gently inviting others to ground their assessments so that you can see what's behind their thinking. Sometimes, it has the added benefit of causing them to do more thinking! The key word here is "gentle." This is not about interrogating others. It's about saying, "Hey, I hear that your take is X. I imagine you've thought a lot about this. Can you help me understand what's behind that assessment?" Put these four pieces together and you have a successful argument.
What other tips can you provide to leaders to foster a productive and engaging work environment?
First, make sure you are showing up to work every day with physical energy and the ability to focus. Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Take breaks at least once every ninety minutes. Move your body. Eat in a way that you have sustained energy throughout the day instead of energy spikes and crashes. Hint: proteins, healthy fats, and vegetables will sustain your energy far better than soft drinks, sugary foods, and fast carbs (muffins, breads, and other foods that create blood sugar spikes and crashes). Second, learn what triggers you emotionally and take on practices that allow you to respond calmly. A couple years ago, at a conference the CTO of Cisco was asked what benefits she got from meditating. She said that it helped her stay calm in very tense situations. Mindfulness isn't the only practice for managing triggers, but it's a darn effective one. Third, look at Gallup's research about employee engagement—it's amazingly useful. Finally, if you're not great at developing people, hire or partner with someone who is. Ultimately, we are as good as the people we surrounded ourselves with.