David Harding: It’s impossible to be smart without also being aware of the wider world

For some 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours, we are involved in some form of communication. Of that, just 40 percent is spent listening. And from my experience, that’s a pretty generous statistic.

I think that equation should be reversed.

Recommit to listening. Listening is a big part of being a leader. Here’s how to start:

  • Minimize distractions (internal and external). Turn off your cell phone and close your email.
  • Get up from your desk and move to a conference table. For a quicker exchange, just stand up.
  • Show support with your body language. Lean forward and face the speaker. Maintain eye contact.
  • Listen with the sole purpose of understanding and connecting. Keep an open mind.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Ask questions to deepen your understanding. Demonstrate that you understand with smiles and nods, follow up and provide feedback. 

Be real

Stop trying to be a better leader and be more authentic.

Why fear being authentically you? Most fears of revealing the true self are built around failing or losing status or power. It’s ironic. Effective leaders create natural power by virtue of their authenticity, while managers who conform or exert artificial power fool no one.

Successful leaders act according to what they say and feel in their hearts:

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses and dare to admit them.
  • Clarify your purpose and values.
  • Speak up and provide honest feedback.
  • Respect the needs of others.
  • Work in an environment that supports relationships and builds strong emotional bonds with people who share your visions and values. 

Lead from below

A successful mid-level manager advances when he takes the right amount of initiative, concedes an appropriate amount of recognition and makes his way up the corporate ladder.

How can you lead up? Lead from below with purpose, earning the right to leadership by taking small steps. Organize, learn and lay a foundation. Reflect credit and embrace blame. Create a reputation and an environment where the people around you are transformed.

When you do this with intention and authenticity, it becomes second nature, and you become a leader from the ground up. 

Know a little about a lot

It has been said, “Intelligence is the combination of knowing a lot about a little, while you also know a little about a lot.”

Thus it’s impossible to be smart without also being aware of the wider world. The Internet has made us all well aware of how much there is to know. The challenge today is knowing a little about a lot. And it’s pretty tempting to spend a lot of time pursuing that goal.

Becoming an expert with deep understanding in your domain remains just as important and just as difficult to achieve as it used to be. Deep understanding of a system, domain, territory or culture helps you create analyses and then apply them to new systems you encounter.

First, figure out what types of complementary or multi-function skills will help you do your job better — and might lead to other work if your present job disappears. In other words, become more “T-shaped” with your skill development.

Know your chosen domain deeply, and be open to knowing a little about a lot more. It’s the random interactions and surprising coincidences of these “littles” together with your “lot” that will help you successfully and interestingly navigate your daily life. ● 

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit www.hardingpoorman.com.