Welcome to the latest installment on Leadership Lexicon. See earlier posts on Relationships, Responsibility, and being Transparent and Approachable. Today I want to address the importance of a leader being socially adept. In Sustained Leadership WBS I define it in this way:
WBS Dictionary: Being socially adept means that you are sensitive to the social mores around you. Different circumstances will demand different mores, so it is important to have situational awareness (2.1.6) and be able to adjust. Part of this comes from gaining knowledge of the social (including cultural and ethnic parameters) of any situation in which the leader might find himself or herself. This requires a level of preparation when cultural shifts are to be expected, such as when planning to travel to a foreign country. In the more domestic situations the sustained leader must be able to distinguish between informal unstructured settings (attending a sporting event) and graduating levels of more formalized settings, such as a family dinner, or a wedding reception, or a White House dinner. The sustained leader must learn to be flexible in all such situations and to act accordingly.
Social Interactions are Everywhere and Constant
Life, business, and all of society is built on being “social.” Effectively this means that you will, by definition and necessity, interact with others. None of us can truly succeed following Paul Simon’s advice of attempting to be a rock, or an island. We depend on others to do their jobs, just as they depend on us doing ours When people interact, which they do constantly, it is important to be able to read the signs and signals to know what the appropriate societal norm might be.
To facilitate such interactions, society has built what are called “constructs.” These are models of behavior, built from simpler elements. Interacting with others can be very complex, so we must learn such things by dissecting the larger environment into its elements. By mixing and matching them, we develop an ability to discern which ones are present in any given social interaction. Thus, being socially adept suggests that the sustained leader will continually add to their arsenal a variety of social tools to bring out and apply when the social situations needs it.
Thus the first step is to develop your social awareness. Be astute. Observe. Plan ahead if you can. Brush up on your etiquette and small talk. Each of these is a social tool. Be aware of the broad classes of social interaction and categorize them as you encounter them. This prepares you to adapt quickly to an unexpected or changing social environment. Being well prepared and adaptable is a sign of a sustained leader.
Some suggest that being socially adept is for the gregarious or extroverted among us. No true. While some such skills may come more easily to the extroverted, anyone can learn them. Learn about body language, diverse cultures, protocol and etiquette in diverse situations, and when necessary, proper pronunciation of titles and proper names. As Dale Carnegie has told us, there is no sweeter sound than one’s own name. And know ahead of time proper attire and the level of formality expected.
Developing better “small talk” conversational abilities is another important tool. Subscribe to a few news feeds that will give you daily headlines. Read through them every day to be familiar with the subjects. Engage others by asking them if they saw any particular item and ask them to share their thoughts. You, of course, need to be able to participate in any conversation you start, so be sure to know enough to speak intelligently on the subject. If you are not a member of Toastmasters – JOIN! Never dominate small talk conversations. Learn to ask outstanding questions, talk about the other person, and perhaps most importantly of all SMILE!
Recognize as well that in-person encounters are not the only social settings where the sustained leader needs to be adept. It is, after all, referred to as “social” media and being adept with the written word can be equally important. It is simply another social environment where relationships are initiated and developed.
You CAN Improve your Social Awareness
There are so many variations on social settings that it is impossible to be immediately adept at all of them. Work to broaden your exposure and practice in safe environments. Being astute and flexible is the key. Work on your observational skills. Build an arsenal of tools that you can call upon. Do your research. With time and a little practice, you will be perceived to have, and actually possess, skills that make you socially adept.
This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section 18.104.22.168 Socially Adept. Many of the additional traits and skills mentioned in this article are addressed in more detail in other sections of the book. Order your copy here.
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