Warren G. Harding looked like a leader. He was handsome and dignified, never hard to get along with. He moved with little effort through the ranks of Ohio politics, became a compromise candidate for president.
He was elected in a landslide on his promise to return the country to normalcy after the hardships of World War I. He died in office after three mediocre years and often is classed among the worst presidents in history.
Numerous scandals erupted because of Harding’s inability to evaluate his appointees.
Stephen Hawking is an entirely different story. He looks like a very sick man, which he is – severely limited physically by ALS, able to communicate only by computerized means.
And Stephen Hawking is deep into the most fundamental questions of our physical world. He is a cosmologist, and yet has the celebrity of a rock star. He works brilliantly in studying and writing about the universe – gravity, black holes, why the theory of General Relativity must be unified with Quantum Theory.
And people hang on his every word.
Harding was born on third base and died disgraced. Hawking was born a genius and has never ceased his hard work, employing his brilliance to advance knowledge.
We see gradations of both workstyles all around us.
There are people whose appearance, personality and/or indefinable attractiveness predispose us to pay attention to them, whose opinions and preferences gain them an automatic entry into our favorable judgment.
Some of them behave in ways that validate that first impression; some don’t.
Often, the ones who fall short continue to exercise influence despite the evidence, and those who depend upon them suffer disappointment – and worse – proportionate to the duration of their inattention.
Most of us don’t seem to have obvious bonus points to support our efforts to earn attention and influence with our fellows. People have no particular reason to wait expectantly for us to speak. So how are we to get noticed and respected? How can we matter?
As with any other learning process, let’s start with observation.
There are people among our associates who always get listened to without any extra advantages. What do they do that gives them such status?
They generally are good at both inclusiveness and critical thinking.
They pay real attention to other people, focusing on what is being said. They regularly use comments and questions to validate and clarify what they are being told. They withhold their own conclusions until others have fully contributed, then keep it short and on point.
This outward focus in conversation builds response from others. People pay attention to those who pay attention to them. Relationship-building also blends naturally into the first stages of critical thinking.
Critical thinking is a personal discipline aimed at reducing the predominance of bias and habit in our decision-making. It requires thought and practice, but it is worth the effort because it produces improved results immediately and enhances the building of mutually productive partnerships.
Actually, we love to have critical thinkers as associates, and gain significantly from working with them. These are the people who, besides listening actively and attentively to us, ask good questions, do their research homework, are restrained in agreeing – but are steadfast once they have agreed.
So, leadership results from focus and discipline. Not only must we decide to practice it, we also must practice it. We devote conscious attention to how we’re thinking and how we’re interacting with others.
We invest time and effort, continually, in awareness of ourselves in the moment. We learn how to corral straying thoughts. We become better companions. We contribute and collaborate more actively.
We think more and more acutely.
We assert less and ask more.
We get listened to.
Think about it for a moment. Whom do you pay attention to? Who influences you, and how? Let's see your comment below.
SEE ALSO: You Radiate Leadership . . . or Not