Talk to Me

Surprised adult asking you mean me?

I recently ran across something that really struck a chord with me. “There would be a lot fewer problems in the world if we talked to people rather than about them.”

It is easy to agree with that sentiment in the abstract. You may even have one or two specific examples pop into your mind when you read those words. But before you get too comfortable up on that pedestal of high ideals, let’s take a moment to move that thought out of the abstract, and away from sweeping examples like stereotypes, politics or religion. Let’s take a look at the concept in your everyday life as a leader.

One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek First to Understand . . .” The only way to do that is to talk to someone . . . to listen, to inquire, to explore questions and possibilities with them. One of the challenges for leaders is that people look to you for answers, for guidance on how they should act and what they should believe. After a while, it is easy to start speaking rather than seeking, to start telling others about how you see things rather than asking others to share their perspective.

Be honest, how many times have you talked about your frustration with a situation, another organization, or a government agency with someone other than the one who was causing you to cringe? Yep, guilty. Sure, sometimes you have to process and it is helpful to get someone else’s take on a situation to see if they see or are experiencing what you are. Just don’t get stuck there. If you really want to solve the dilemma before you, you have to move from continuing to rehash a situation (i.e. bellyaching) to taking steps to resolve the issue — which in most cases requires talking to someone. Not at, not about, to.

I’m not suggesting that you not be decisive as a leader, only that you have as much information as possible — from all perspectives — before making a decision. Do you know the intent of the person/organization who is causing “the problem?” Not what you assume their intent was, but honestly inquiring about what they were trying to accomplish? (Hint: usually it is not simply to annoy you.) Then and only then can you begin to take steps to solve the dilemma before you.

Being an effective leader isn’t about how “strong” you are. It is about how many roadblocks you can remove, how many problems you can solve, to help your organization, and those with whom you work, succeed. It’s not as hard as we sometimes make it. In fact, the first step is really pretty simple. Talk to me.

Habit-Forming Leadership

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When a book has sold more than 25 million copies, been translated into 40 languages, and been named one of the top management books of all time, something about it is resonating with people. One would think that most leaders would aspire to incorporate the key concepts of such an influential work into their everyday interactions and strategic efforts . . . yes, one would think.

It’s not that the steps are difficult. We teach them to grade school children in my community, and kindergarteners can demonstrate an understanding of the concepts. Indeed, the most profound truths are usually quite simple. And yet somehow, when people achieve a certain level of leadership responsibility, there is a tendency to think there must be some complicated mix of secret sauce, doled out only to a few select individuals, that is responsible for their success. I hate to burst that bubble, but there are about 25 million people who have been given the same secret sauce.

The secret sauce? “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. All seven habits can be described in less than 30 words. Their simplicity is powerful, undoubtedly, but simple does not necessarily mean easy. In fact, in many cases, simple is much harder to do. (No one promised you this gig would be easy, right?!?)

Indulge me for a minute here, and think about your most pressing organizational (or political, or community) leadership challenge, and honestly ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you been proactive in your approach, or are you reacting to the loudest voices, or fear, or those who would seek to undermine your efforts?


  • Do you and everyone on your team know your succinctly stated end goal, or are you merely moving in the general direction some external source is pushing you to go?


  • Do you prioritize your efforts on the most urgent, important things that only you can do, or do you get drawn into the daily drama that sucks the energy out of even the best intentions?


  • Are you really looking for a solution where everyone wins, even if it means you might have to give a little in the process?


  • Have you listened long enough and understand another’s position well enough to either find a middle ground or to explain your position starting from their frame of reference?


  • Are you open enough to the input of others to consider that together you might come up with a much better solution that you could alone?


  • Are you willing to really put in the time it takes to renew and stretch yourself in new ways . . . which will require saying no to some of the things that “everyone” thinks you should be doing?

Pretty simple questions, really. And the answers will separate the true leaders from the wanna-be’s.

Maybe it’s time for some new habits.