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Friday, November 30, 2012

Leadership is ‘Expressiveness'

We, human beings, have inherited a unique trait: “ability to express feelings by using appropriate words, voice, body and face”. It is by using this trait, that great leaders, as observed by Daniel Goleman, et al. (2003),[1] ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. Great leaders are often found to operate through ‘emotions’. It is indeed their emotional skills rather than the traditional IQ that have proved to be the hallmark of successful leaders. “Emotional leadership is a spark that ignites an organization’s performance, creating a bonfire of success or a landscape of ashes,” said Goleman. Successful leaders always ensure that an optimum level of excitement is maintained among the followers in the organization and this is possible only through “expressiveness”.

Expressiveness involves expression of an authentic emotion about a passionate purpose and, to excite people with such purposes, the leader should ensure congruence between his voice and his body. Oftentimes, it is observed that the words spoken by a leader sound exciting while the body communicates a different meaning – no wonder, sometimes, the body language of the speaker dampens the excitement sparked by his words. The sure way to communicate effectively, therefore, is to use all these expressions, congruently. Otherwise, the leader may have to pay a heavy penalty in terms of loss of credibility. Mahadevi Varma[2] – a noted literary figure, and a Jnanpith awardee, known more as a modern Meera– narrated an incident in her life, which confirms what damage the incongruence between words and body language could do: After passing B.A. she, being influenced by Buddha’s Karuna Bhavana – passion for kindness – went to a Bhikshu – a Buddhist Monk – to take ‘initiation’ into Buddhism. It seems the monk spoke to her, hiding his face behind a “hand-fan”, so that he could avoid staring into her face. Looking at his anxiety to protect himself from the possible distraction that watching a young lady’s face may cause, she questioned herself. “If this monk had no control over his own senses, what initiation would he give to me?” This made her give up the idea of joining Buddhism. It is the incongruence between the spoken words and the body language of the monk that made him lose his credibility as a monk in the eyes of the young lady who called on him for ‘initiation’ into Buddhism.

Effective leaders are known to begin their articulation by arousing the listeners’ attention, using quotes, presenting a big picture, etc. and sustain it till their presentation is over, by building up excellent rapport between the audience and themselves, using pitch, pauses, vocal variety, posture, facial expression, gestures, eye contact, etc. in varied fashions. They bring life into their expressions. For instance, Martin Luther King in his 1963 “I have a dream” speech used poetic imagery and metaphors to convey his powerful ideas on apartheid and thus got the audience glued to his speech: “I have a dream that one day on the Red Hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” The same could have been said in this way: I hope one day the children of slaves and those of the owners will sit together and play. But that would have been a drab and lifeless statement. But if the same, when said, using expressions such as: “sons of former slaves”; “sons of former slave owners”; “on the Red Hills”; “on the table of brotherhood”, etc. is sure to bring life into the expressions. It arouses and holds the attention of the audience, excites them, and simply gets the ideas implanted in their brains and thus, certainly brings the desired change in the target audience. That is “expressiveness” and those are the “leaders!”

One of the most important ingredients of effective expressiveness is empathy: it is the ability to put oneself in another’s position, understand the other’s perspective and then proceed to interact, that makes communication effective. What is being assumed here is that, unless one is capable of understanding and looking at things from various perspectives, one would not be able to interact effectively. To better appreciate this concept, let us take a look at Act three, scene II of Julius Caesar where Shakespeare exhibits his hold over and insight into human sensitivities. Here, Mark Antony enters the marketplace and, as permitted by the Brutus, begins his speech after Brutus departs.

He senses that people were, by then, made to believe that “Caesar was a tyrant” by Brutus et al. He guesses the state of mind of the audience well. He realizes that people would not let him speak if he contradicts what the rest have already said. As he keenly felt the pulse of the audience, Antony begins his speech with his famous words: “Friends, Romans, and country men!” He thus, at once, identifies himself with the mob. To gain further acceptance, Antony assures the audience that he has not come to praise Caesar but to bury him. He goes on to say, “The evil that men do lives after them; / The good is oft interred with their bones; / So let it be with Caesar.” Having sensed that the audience are with him now, Antony wisely goes on questioning the credibility of the conspirators’ allegations, instead of attacking Brutus et al., and succeeds in making the citizens think afresh. It is Antony’s respect for the audiences’ mood and his sheer time sense that won him the day. And that is the importance of ‘empathy’ in making communication effective.

Having made the audience willing listeners to his speech, and having realized that it was time to project Caesar in the rightful perspective, Antony continues:

……..The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.

Antony, intelligently, repeats what Brutus has already said but very subtly plants a doubt and makes the audiences’ hearts and minds quiver with a question: “Is there any shady deal behind it?” Having thus created a right platform, he reminds the audience that Caesar “hath brought many captives home to Rome, / Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill”. Having stirred up their minds and hearts enough, he shoots out the first arrow: “Is making Rome rich ambitious?” He won’t stop there; he pounds their hearts by saying “When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept; / Ambition should be made of sterner stuff”. Having won their hearts, now, Antony makes an attempt to turn their ire against the conspirators by taunting their nobility: “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; / And Brutus is an honorable man”. To further consolidate his gains, he draws the audiences’ attention to the fact of his presenting Caesar the crown thrice and Caesar refusing it all the three times, for which the same audience were the witnesses, and questions them at point blank range: “Was this ambition?” That is the expressiveness which appeals to the core of heart and that alone can move “the stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.”

True, only the likes of Shakespeare could weave the words so ingeniously but nothing prevents us from being more careful in appreciating these subtleties in being expressive and practice it with greater concern and grace. Leaders in organizations have to pay greater attention to the ‘package’ as well as the ‘content’ of their message. They can as well use stories, colorful language, analogies, metaphors, etc., to make their expressiveness effective.

[1] Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), p. 3.
[2] As quoted in Misimi – a Telugu Monthly, Vol. 17, No. 11, November 2006.


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