In his New York Times Bestseller, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Dr. John Maxwell introduces his leadership concept called THE LAW OF INTUITION. Maxwell writes, “Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias.” In other words, when a leader looks at the world around them, they see life through a filter of influencing people. Anything they’re involved with, everything they become a part of, is viewed in light of how it will enable them to influence others (To Maxwell: leadership = influence & influence = leadership).
I want to share with you a process I’m thinking through to help me improve my leadership intuition. It’s based on Maxwell’s concepts of how leaders “make things happen” in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Maxwell uses the idea of “reading” as a metaphor for the way leaders see, sense and respond to people they’re with and situations they’re in.
Have you ever heard someone talk about “reading people like a book”? This refers to a person’s ability to accurately discern what another person may be thinking, feeling, desiring, or needing in a given moment of personal interaction. For example, while having a conversation with someone you attempt to ‘read’ that person’s facial expressions to discover their mood. Are they smiling or frowning? Are they squinting their eyes in suspicion or opening their eyes wide in trust? Are their brows furrowed in disagreement or raised in surprise? These gestures become signs enabling you to make sense of the meanings this person is conveying in their communication with you.
I once heard Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, tell the story of his one-on-one private meeting with then President Bill Clinton. Hybels raved about Clinton’s listening skills. Clinton would listen so intently, Hybels recalled, that even when the President lifted his glass of water to take a sip, he never lost eye contact with Hybels as they were talking. Clinton would look through his raised glass into Hybels eyes so as not to break their flow of conversation. Talk about intense!
What was Hybel’s doing? He was ‘reading’ President Clinton like a book. Leaders like Hybels do this sort of thing all the time. But how? What do they specifically do that helps them “be a leader” in the situations they’re in? Answer: they come up with a STORY that makes sense and then lead in the moment based on that STORY.
Here’s what I mean. I believe that leaders “read” people and situations in order to quickly develop a S.T.O.R.Y. which they can use to take action in the moment and move people. As Maxwell writes in his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect:
“Stories, after all, are as old as the human race. We live them, and we love to tell them. We use stories to make sense of our experience.”
What’s the STORY leaders develop to help them read the need so they can lead? There are 5 parts to S.T.O.R.Y. and it breaks down like this…
S – SITUATION
Leaders constantly ask, “What’s the situation?” A husband comes home from an exciting day of getting some “big wins” for his company only to be greeted at the door by a haggard, stressed-out partner and several out of control children.
This husband/leader asks, “What’s the situation here?”. What’s been going on? What has happened here? Like a crime-scene investigator searching for clues he seeks information that reveals the true nature of the situation. For a leader, discovering the situation is articulating their explanation of what’s been going on, what is going on and what needs to happen. Sizing up a situation means paying attention to four elements: Conditions, Causes, Consequences, and Cures. Where ever you are, whoever you’re with, ask yourself these 4 questions:
- What are the conditions here?
- What are the causes of these conditions?
- What are the consequences of these conditions?
- What is the cure for these conditions?
Answering these questions will help shape the S.T.O.R.Y. you’re piecing together as a leader. Read the need before you lead by developing your Situation T.O.R.Y.
T – TRENDS
As leaders are sizing up a situation, they are especially noting any TRENDS they see. Leaders ask, “What patterns are being repeated in this situation that show where it might be headed?” What kind of assumptions, choices, behaviors and results are “popping up” over and over again? Leaders are readers…not merely of books, but of TRENDS.
What do TRENDS reveal? TRENDS act like spotlights that shine their light onto a single, specific area in order to highlight what’s taking place there. Leaders know that what is needed in a particular situation can often be discovered by reading the TRENDS.
- For example, in your business, are you receiving similar repeated complaints from your customers about something they’re dissatisfied with? This is a TREND. Pay attention to it!
- In your family, is your spouse or children hinting to you in subtle ways that you’re working too hard or that you’re not spending enough time with them? These can be TRENDS.
- Has your boss met with you more than once to discuss the same issue? That’s a TREND! Pay attention!
- What am I seeing over and over again? What am I hearing from people over and over again? What am I experiencing over and over again?
Asking and answering these questions gives a leader insight into what they need to say or do to provide leadership in a given situation. They’re developing their S.T.O.R.Y. Read the need before you lead by developing your S.Trends O. R.Y.
O – OPPORTUNITIES
Have you noticed how American culture trains people to spot problems rather than opportunities? Teachers hand tests back to children in elementary school marked up with multiple red x’s to highlight their wrong answers. Did you ever have a teacher highlight the opportunities in your test taking while you were in school? I didn’t. Is there even an opportunity to be found within a child’s test taking failures? I sure hope so! Learning from failure is an essential life lesson.
It often amazes me that while I can choose to read from thousands of books promising to teach me proven ways to solve my problems, there are relatively few books offering to teach me how to spot and seize opportunities?
It seems we are taught from early age to be problem-oriented. And even that wouldn’t be so bad if we were given an equal amount of training in how to effectively solve the problems we see. But we’re not. The result is that children are raised to become problem-spotters rather than problem-solvers. What about raising them to be opportunity-spotters?
Leaders spot opportunities. In fact, that’s usually why they’re considered leaders. They solve problems by seizing opportunities instead of just spotting problems by ignoring opportunities.
Because leaders embrace ‘risk’, they are not simply looking for ‘the path of least risk’ in every situation. Some people live that way. Cautious is their middle-name. They hate risk and abhor uncertainty. A new venture scares them, so they choose not to see it or acknowledge it.
But leaders are constantly asking, “What are the opportunities in this situation?” Now, what constitutes “an opportunity” to one leader will vary according to that leader’s personal values. One (poor) leader sees opportunities to “pad their wallet” in every situation. Another (good) leader sees opportunities to “raise money for charity” in each situation. It depends on the leader. The one thing they do have in common is they look for opportunities. Read the need before you lead by developing your S.T.Opportunities R.Y.
R – RESOURCES
One of my favorite definitions of leadership is shared by Bobb Biehl in his pamphlet Asking to Win, re-titled Asking Profound Questions:
“Leadership is knowing what to do next, knowing why that is important and knowing how to bring the appropriate resources to bear on the need at hand.”
Leaders think in terms of resources: time, people, money, tools. Leaders ask what resources are available that can be used to accomplish their goals. Leaders develop a knack for turning unused items into useful tools. One non-leader’s trash often becomes a leader’s treasure! (tweet that) Leaders instinctively know that Tony Robbins was correct when he said: “It’s not the lack of resources, it’s your lack of resourcefulness that stops you.” (tweet that) Read the need before you lead by developing your S.T.O.Resources Y.
Y – YOURSELF
What can I contribute? What difference will I make? What will be my role? These questions cannot escape the leader’s attention as he looks at himself in the mirror. Good leaders always maintain the possibility that they themselves may have to be the answer to their own prayer! Leaders want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. So, they ask more of themselves than they do of others. They know they can’t ask followers to do something that they aren’t willing to do and still maintain any kind of moral authority to influence people. As the leader, what will you give in order to make something happen? Establish your own personal commitment to the goal first. Read the need before you lead by developing your S.T.O.R.Yourself.
As you develop your leadership S.T.O.R.Y. remember the words of Dr. Suess: “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.” Keep your eyes open. Keep reading people and situations. Keep learning. Keep leading.