management style

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 8th Habit" by Stephen R. Covey. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you having a hard time asserting yourself as a leader? What are some leadership techniques you can implement in your role?

Without a leader, a team is liable to fall apart. An effective leader steps in and assures that every team member has an important role to play. In his book The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey describes four leadership techniques that can make you a strong and confident leader.

Keep reading to learn how to apply these leadership techniques in your organization.

The Leadership Techniques

Covey says that developing self-control, focus, dedication, and integrity will transform you into an exceptional leader. Of all of these forms of intelligence, Covey sees integrity as the key: Integrity functions as your moral compass, determining the direction in which you’ll apply all of your other abilities. 

To do this effectively, leaders also need to develop these qualities in themselves. Covey maps the four types of intelligence onto four different techniques that a leader can use when needed. These leadership techniques are described more in detail below.

Encourage Listening by Using a “Talking Stick” Approach

The first leadership technique is the “talking stick” approach. To determine the best path forward, you need to know which options are available, and to determine all the available options you need to be able to listen well. To do this, Covey suggests implementing the principles of the “talking stick” in important meetings: When you’re holding the stick, you can say what you think and nobody can interrupt you.

Covey suggests that in meetings you either use a designated object for this purpose or you implement the principle with no physical object. If you’re not using an object, one strategy is to have all attendees agree from the beginning that before they state their own ideas, they must summarize the argument of the person who spoke before them. This forces everyone to pay attention and to respect perspectives that conflict with theirs.

Encourage Listening in Meetings: Advice From Radical Candor

While Covey’s talking stick approach encourages good listening, it may be time-consuming if implemented fully. In Radical Candor, Kim Scott offers the following alternative advice to ensure that all meeting attendees have a chance to speak:

  • Go around the table to elicit opinions from everyone on important topics.
  • Politely but firmly cut off people who are monopolizing the floor.
  • Meet with attendees ahead of time to encourage the quiet team members to speak up and the louder ones to talk less.

Flipped Performance Evaluations

Covey suggests that managers can advocate for employees by asking for direct reports to evaluate them, instead of the other way around. In addition to the flipped performance evaluation, he recommends asking questions such as:

  • Are you happy? Why/Why not?
  • What would you like to do next?
  • What do you need?

Shake Up the Performance Review Process

Research shows that nearly everyone hates performance reviews—even people who are strongly motivated to improve. And they may not be useful for organizations, either: Performance reviews can be expensive, unnecessarily antagonistic processes that leave employees and managers feeling bad. 

Covey’s suggestion to flip performance evaluations isn’t the only option: Leaders could also consider moving toward a broader “culture of compassionate evaluation,” in which employees receive gentle feedback on an ongoing basis. Another option is to invert the typical structure of review meetings by asking employees to provide a self-assessment at the beginning of the meeting.

Implement 360° Feedback Systems

Most people evaluate their performance based on the information that’s right in front of them. Instead of doing this, try to fill in your blind spots by seeking feedback from all directions (all 360° of the circle around you). On an individual level, this means including the evaluations of direct reports and peers as well as managers in performance evaluations. On an organizational level, this means evaluating a firm’s performance by combining information from internal financial indicators, consultations with external partners and clients, and comparisons with world-class performers.

360° Feedback: Problems and Possible Solutions

The 360° feedback approach that Covey recommends emerged and became popular in the 1990s, with a 1994 article in Fortune magazine proclaiming that it can “change your life.” However, researchers became increasingly skeptical about its effectiveness, even questioning whether it had “gone amok.” In practice, 360° feedback can also lead to feedback overload, in which people receive so much conflicting feedback that they end up disregarding all of it.

Patrick Lencioni argues in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team that 360° feedback should only be used as a tool for personal career development, separate from the formalized performance evaluation process. Another possible solution is to keep the peer performance reviews but simplify them. At Google, for example, only a small number of peers give feedback, and their feedback is limited to the employee’s strengths, weaknesses, and specific contributions. At Netflix, peer feedback is limited to what the employee should start, stop, and continue doing.

Encourage Individual Initiative

The last leadership technique Covey recommends is encouraging individual initiative. Covey suggests that leaders govern with a light touch, encouraging their team members to practice stepping into all four leadership roles. As an example, he describes seven possible levels of initiative that each team member can take. The most appropriate level depends on their position, the work environment, and the task at hand.

  1. Obey instructions. This is the most passive level. It applies when you’re considering a certain action, but it isn’t officially your job and you don’t want to ruffle any feathers.
  2. Show curiosity. A well-considered question can show others that you understand the issue without putting undue pressure on them.
  3. Make a suggestion. To avoid wasting managers’ time, it’s important that the suggestion is as complete and well-considered as possible. Covey suggests the Doctrine of Completed Staff Work, a set of guidelines used in the military, as an example of taking initiative on this level.
  4. Communicate an intention. This applies when you have the resources to generate a solution but lack the power to authorize it.
  5. Act independently and inform others straight away. This applies when you’re authorized to take a particular action and the action directly affects others.
  6. Act independently and inform others as needed. This level applies when something is within your job description and is relevant to others but doesn’t directly affect them.

Get on with it. This level applies when something is your job and doesn’t affect others in a meaningful way.

The 4 Leadership Techniques to Amplify Your Team

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Here's what you'll find in our full The 8th Habit summary :

  • Why the most important job of a leader is to nurture individuality
  • How an organization is like the human body
  • Why leaders should let their employees evaluate them

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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