Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category


Listening to Volunteers: Best Practices for Leaders

March 19, 2009

At the 30th annual convention of the International Listening Association, I had the opportunity to give this presentation today. If you download the presentation directly from SlideShare, you can see notes for each slide.


Dimensions of Courageous Followership

January 24, 2008

Ira Chaleff, author of The Courageous Follower: Standing up To and for Our Leaders, maintains that there are several dimensions of courageous followership. These dimensions are the courage to assume responsibility, the courage to serve, the courage to challenge, the courage to participate in transformation, and the courage to take moral action.

In addition to the five dimensions for courageous followers, Chaleff discusses a sixth dimension specifically for leaders in the second edition of his book: leaders must have the courage to listen to their followers. “If they don’t they may as well cover the instruments on their dashboards, fire their pit crews, and race with abandon down the track, until they run out of gas or are stopped abruptly by hard reality” (Chaleff, 2003, pp. 192-193). Many, if not most, leaders would say that they have an open-door policy. However, followers may be dissuaded, either intentionally or unintentionally, from speaking their minds with their leaders. A leader who chooses not to listen to his or her followers puts the organization at risk.

A leader may be put in the uncomfortable position of listening to a follower who is taking a moral stand on an issue, a stand that differs from that of the leader or the organization. Chaleff (2003) offers a possible response protocol for this situation; the eleven steps are discussed below. Key components to this protocol are meeting personally with the follower before, throughout, and after any investigation into the circumstances that prompted the moral stand. “The crucial act of leadership is to respond to a moral stand in an equally principled manner—and meet courage with courage” (p. 216).

Possible Response Protocol for a Moral Issue (taken directly from Chaleff, 2003, pp. 216-217)

  1. Separate the message from the messenger. Pay careful attention to the content regardless of your view of the messenger.
  2. Listen to both the content and to the strength of feelings about the matter. The seriousness of the situation is better gauged by both factors.
  3. Regardless of your initial reaction, promise to get back to the individual personally, and commit to a time frame for doing so.
  4. Avoid any impulse to take precipitous and poorly advised damage control measures, such as document destruction.
  5. Decide which advisers to consult, bearing in mind as necessary which relationships confer legal protection for privileged communications.
  6. With the help of your advisers, gather any additional information you need to understand the full scope of the situation.
  7. With this additional information, play out the potential consequences, including best-case and worst-case scenarios, avoiding any tendency to denial.
  8. Review and restate the core values that will guide your course of action. Generate two or three options for consideration that respect these values, and respond sufficiently to the gravity of the situation.
  9. Choose the course of action that best serves the common purpose, and act with the vigor, courage, and imagination the situation warrants.
  10. Report back personally to the individual or individuals whose moral stand provided the catalyst for your actions.
  11. As the situation progresses, credit the courageous followers who took the moral stand, while accepting responsibility personally or corporately for the wrong actions now being corrected.


Chaleff, I. (1996). Effective followership. Executive Excellence, 13(4), 16.

Chaleff, I. (1997). Learn the art of followership. Government Executive, 29(2), 51.

Chaleff, I. (2003). The courageous follower: Standing up to and for our leaders (2nd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Chaleff, I. (2004). The leader-follower partnership: It’s a new day. April 25, 2007, from


Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

January 22, 2008

In the Capella University course The Dark Side of Leadership, we were asked to reflect on the following:

Share ways that have proven helpful in your past experiences to mitigate personal dark leadership characteristics. Based on what you have learned in this course and your recent experiences, are there any further techniques that you can offer as best practices?

What has helped most to mitigate my own dark leadership characteristics is this: finding out about them! However, I cannot truthfully say that I agreed with what others had to offer when I asked for the feedback . . . at least not at first. As a college professor, I had always received feedback on my teaching from my students. And as a young and somewhat cocky professor, I would tend to discount anything that did not fit my idea of what I was “really like” as a professor. As years progressed, and I moved into corporate America as a training manager in a Fortune 500 company, I was able to (read: forced into) participate in the company’s 360-degree evaluation program. Perhaps getting a little older helped, or maybe there were other factors, but I started listening more closely to what others were saying my shortcomings were. (Some of these had to do with my leadership style, while others had to do with different competencies required of me in my role.)

Then – this is the good part – a few years ago, I took a battery of Hogan Assessments. One of these was the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), “an inventory of personality characteristics that can derail success in careers, relationships, and life” (Hogan Assessment Systems, 2006). There were about 150 statements for which I could chose only “agree” or “disagree,” no middle ground. For the first time, I was able to receive feedback on my leadership effectiveness and potential in a way that was based in research, not just opinions.

Of the eleven potential derailers (dark leadership behaviors) that are assessed on the scale, the one that had the highest score and was the biggest wake-up call for me was that I was “leisurely.” According to the HDS, someone who is leisurely may do the following (Hogan & Hogan, 2001):

  • March to the sound of her own drummer
  • Be confident about her skills and abilities
  • Insist on working at her own pace
  • Has good social skills
  • Pretends to agree when really she doesn’t
  • Will drag her feet when she disagrees, rather than being direct and letting others know

As I read my HDS report, I could think of specific examples of times when I did each of the leisurely items. I literally saw a lightbulb go on over my own head. I thought of how circumstances turned out when I was leisurely, and then imagined how they might have turned out differently if I had been more direct in my opinions. What I had thought was being thoughtful or politically correct was actually harming my career and my relationships.

From that point on, because I was aware of this leisurely tendency, I became more likely to say what I mean and mean what I say (to paraphrase the March Hare and Alice). To help keep me accountable, I shared my Hogan results with a trusted colleague at work and asked her to help with this tendency of mine.


Hogan Assessment Systems. (2006). Hogan Development Survey: Scales and interpretations Retrieved August 10, 2006, from

Hogan, R., & Hogan, J. (2001). Assessing leadership: A view from the dark side. International Journal of Selection & Assessment, 9(1/2), 40.


Top Topics for 2008

December 18, 2007

For the coming year, I will continue working as an organizational development consultant with several corporations and nonprofit groups in the Southeast. Many of the topics could be shared in a focused lunch & learn format or expanded to a half- or full-day interactive session with my clients. Below, you will find a listing of topics that you’ll read more about in my Listening Matters blog as the year progresses.

Communication Matters

  • Training with Style: Train the Trainer
  • Facilitation with Finesse: Presentations, Meetings & More
  • Avoid Click-Thud Effect: Energize Your PowerPoint Presentations
  • Dynamic Presentations
  • Listening: The Hidden Competency
  • More than Gestures: Nonverbal Communication
  • Customer-Focused Writing
  • E-ffective & E-fficient E-mail Writing

Diversity Matters

  • Diversity in Action
  • Clowning Around with Diversity
  • Listening to Diversity
  • Lucy & Ricky Meet Will & Grace: Intergenerational Differences in the Workplace
  • Beyond Do’s & Taboos: Intercultural Etiquette
  • Cultural Awareness: Our Changing Demographics
  • The Platinum Rule
  • Survive & Thrive as e a Peacock in the Land of Penguins

Leadership Matters

  • Peer Today, Boss Tomorrow: Managing Your Transition into Leadership
  • The Human Side of Change
  • Managing Meetings That Matter
  • Priority Management
  • Beyond Choosing the Right Fork: Mealtime Etiquette
  • Interviewing Skills: From Both Sides of the Table

For Interns or New College Grads

  • Brand U: Making Your Best First Impression in the Workplace
  • Blogs, Facebook & MySpace, Oh My!
  • Career Development: Resume Writing & Interviewing Skills
  • Mealtime Etiquette


Are leaders born? Or can they be “made”?

December 12, 2007

Are leaders born? Or can they be “made”? This is the center of many discussions in “The Dark Side of Leadership,” one of my Capella University courses during my Ph.D. program. I argue that leadership (in general) can be learned.

Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic for nearly three decades, asserts: “Today’s leaders are dynamic, transforming, evolutionary — but they weren’t necessarily born that way. Their training in distinctions allows them to speak passionately and be open to the contributions of others while holding true to a project’s long trajectory. Can leadership be taught? Indeed it can!” (Zander & Zander, 2006).

The traits of a leader are innate; they are the sum and total of the leader’s personality and character. Though the leader may be able to choose which traits are exhibited, the traits continue to exist — and sometimes simmer — under the surface. One can’t dismiss the importance of a leader’s character, especially after learning about what happens when a leader does not possess or exhibit integrity (for example, the leaders of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and others).

On the other hand, many of a leader’s competencies — such as the ability to delegate effectively or to deliver a motivating speech — can be learned through time and practice. In my mind, you can’t learn integrity; either it is there or it isn’t. And even if it is “there,” the leader makes a choice whether to exhibit the trait depending on the situation he or she is facing.

So what should be done when a leader is not exhibiting the desired traits or competencies in the workplace? Is development possible? According to an article in Leadership Excellence, we should “build strengths using companion competencies and leverage the ‘halo effect’ where a few profound strengths overshadow individual weaknesses to achieve breakthrough performance improvement” (Trinka, 2005).

A leader – for a time – can exhibit the learned competencies and be successful and effective. Depending on the length of tenure for the leader, this may be enough to get by. However, one competency that the leader must develop is the ability to realize when the dark side may be emerging, and then to deal with it head on. Some leaders are able to do this on their own, while others may seek professional help (like fictionally shown in The Thomas Crown Affair or The Sopranos).

In closing, “Nature may be our internal guide (map), but nurture is our explorer that has the final say in what we do (destination)” (Clark, 1997, Is character developed via nature or nurture section, para. 1).


Clark, D. (1997, September 18, 2005). Leadership: Character and traits. Retrieved July 26, 2006, from

Trinka, J. (2005). Great leaders. Leadership Excellence, 22(7), 17.

Zander, B., & Zander, R. S. (2006). Nature versus nurture [Electronic Version]. Fast Company. Retrieved July 26, 2006 from


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Listening Matters by
Barbara B. Nixon, Ph.D. (ABD) is licensed under a
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