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Lykken on Leadership: Communication and Leadership (Part II)

David Lykken
Jan 03, 2012

Communication and leadership are so intertwined that you cannot talk about one without talking about the other. As implied by the words “Part II” in the title above, this article is a continuation of another recent article on communication, which again, is the sixth “C” (characteristic) in the 7-Cs of Leadership. As I said in my previous article, the definition of communication (the exchange of information) sounds simple enough, but for most of us, it only takes listening to a few arguments to realize that it is about as complicated of a topic as any on the planet. And further complicating communications these days are the new technologies out there such as texting and social media posts. Again, there are various forms of communication available to us today, but things get crazy when you consider the amount of new methods available. In spite of all these new various forms and methods of communication, studies indicate that we are doing a worse job of communicating effectively than ever before. How can this be? The answer is that we are finding it more difficult to "relate" and "connect" with each other in spite of all the forms and methods of communicating that we have at our disposal. While a book could be written about this, the bottom line all of this is that it is having a profound impact on our business dealings and has alarming implications as a society unless we turn this around. So, how can we turn this trend around and improve our ability to communicate with each other more effectively? The answer starts with how well we “relate” to each other. The degree to which we can successfully relate to each other is the same degree to which we will succeed (or fail) at whatever we, collectively as a company, set out to do. What I have found most effective in helping people learn how to relate better to each other is to start with an overall understanding of the four personality types … the melancholic “social worker” type, the sanguine “cheerleader” type, the phlegmatic “accountant-engineer” type or the choleric “army general” type. Take a moment to look over the following diagram. Most of us have a dominant personality type and a sub-dominant. For me, my dominant personality type is sanguine and my sub-dominant is choleric. The dominant type is who or how you are most of the time and the sub-dominant is where you go in times of stress or if you are feeling pressure. Some folks live their entire professional lives and their sub-dominant personality type because they feel they need to make an adjustment for the position they have found themselves. This could possibly explain why there are so many successful people not experiencing job satisfaction that they otherwise could. As the saying goes, “Find a job doing what you love to do (that which aligns with your personality type) and you'll never work another day of your life.” For those who might think this topic is too much of an oversimplification on an otherwise complicated topic, I'd merely countered by saying that we have to start somewhere and a great place to start is understanding who we are and how we were act and respond to others. If you agree, I recommend you start by doing two things: First, I want you to identify the personality type that you most closely identify with. For some of us, we can almost immediately relate more to one personality style or another. If you struggle with identifying your personality type, then I would recommend you ask those close to you—family or friends—to help you. Second, take a moment and think of someone with whom you find it a struggle to relate to. Another way to say it is to ask you this question: Is there someone who you work with that drives you up the wall or seems to be from another planet For most of us, someone comes to mind almost immediately. However, if that doesn’t work, consider your spouse. As the expression goes, “opposites attract.” That certainly is the case with my wife and I as we are polar opposites. I'm a classic sanguine personality type and my wife is more of a phlegmatic personality type. At times, it seemed like a fatal attraction. We jokingly say that in the early days of our marriage, we had our marriage counselor on our speed dial … that is until we began to grow in our understanding of how to communicate based upon what was important to each other with respect to each other’s personality type. While the level of relationship and commitment is different in marriage, there are similarities to a cohesive and well-managed company. It starts and ends with how well two or more people relate to each other and how they handle conflict. Consider for a moment the personality type that is most common amongst sales/loan originators. While this is not an absolute, it is far more common to find the sanguine personality types populating the sales ranks of most companies. They are highly relational, extraverted and fun to be around. Not surprisingly, the personality type that is most commonly found amongst loan processors, underwriters and funders is that of the phlegmatic personality type. They are more process-oriented, analytical and logical. Again, I would refer you to the diagram, and without sounding too stereotypical, we see more choleric command-and-control personality types running companies or in management positions. Choleric types are uniquely positioned in the diagram to relate well to both the sanguine and phlegmatic types at least in theory. That being said, let me emphatically say that you DO NOT have to be a choleric personality type to be an effective leader. If you study leadership, you will find that there are successful leaders in every personality group. While it's important to understand your personality style, it is equally or possibly more important that you understand the personality type of other and develop skills to relate to them genuinely and effectively. The hardest people to relate to are those who are confused about who they are. I would refer you back to what I said about those who operate in their sub-dominant personality type without realizing. This might explain why some people project themselves to have one personality type publicly, but in reality, have a completely different personality type. That is why I recommend using a higher-end personality assessment tool to determine who you really are. There are many that exist, but the one I like the best is the Birkman Method … more on this in a minute. Keep in mind that this article and this series of articles (The 7-Cs [characteristics] of Leadership) focuses on leadership and leadership development. Therefore, it is essential that we incorporate a thorough understanding of these four personality types if we ever hope to improve our own leadership skills or develop ourselves to be the future leaders of tomorrow. Again, the degree to which you become familiar with other personality types is the same degree to which you have a better chance of relating to a greater number of people. There is someone I want you to meet … his name is Dr. Roger Birkman, a man who is in his 90s and is still an active consultant. He is an inspiration to me for many reasons, one of which is that he still consults on social and interpersonal interactions involving people in the workplace. The basis for his life's work began when he piloted a B-17 bomber in World War II. While on bombing missions, he observed how the group of men flying with him on each mission all observed the same battle scenario at the same time and yet each arrived at a completely different conclusion. “How can this be?” Dr. Birkman thought. After the war, he dedicated himself to studying this phenomenon which he later applied to people in the workplace. Side note to all you “Hook’em Horns” fans out there, Dr. Birkman completed his doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas by writing his "Test of Social Comprehension" that later became known as The Birkman Method. Dr. Birkman’s company, Birkman & Associates, is the provider of the industry-leading personality assessment that facilitates team building, executive coaching, leadership development, career and talent management and interpersonal conflict resolution. I would encourage you to learn more by visiting his Web site, The beginning of strong leadership is to develop an understanding of these four personality types and then study each for the purpose of learning how to relate more effectively to the other personality types. For example, if you're a choleric personality type explaining the benefits of some new loan program, you are introducing to a group of sanguine loan officers (LOs), you will have better success if you communicate in an upbeat and positive manner, telling them about how “everyone” is using this program and making a lot of money with it. Conversely, a sanguine personality type LO who is about to meet with a phlegmatic type underwriter would do well to slow down and present their case with a more subdued and even temperament, presenting the facts in a more rational and analytical manner. Again, if you read and study each of the four personality types you quickly begin to create your own scenarios of how you need to adjust to better relate to that other personality style. If you are one of the ones reading this that is pooh-poohing this concept, consider this. There is a company in Austin, Texas that has developed technology used by large call centers. This technology predicts the personality type of an inbound caller within milliseconds of the caller speaking their first words. This same technology then routes the caller to someone with a similar personality type. In other words, it routes a sanguine and caller with a sanguine customer service representative at the call center. In this way, a caller getting routed to someone like themselves increases the probability of a successful outcome, regardless of the situation. Can you begin to see how much more effective a company could be if their personnel at all levels were trained in how to quickly recognize another's personality and make adjustments to the way they interact with that person? This will only happen if the leaders of each company embrace this personally, and then push it throughout their entire organization. If you e-mail me, I will send you an electronic copy of the “Understanding the Four Personality Types” diagram. Also, please direct all questions and/or comments to [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you. David Lykken is president of mortgage strategies and managing partner with Mortgage Banking Solutions. He has more than 35 years of industry experience and has garnered a national reputation, and has become a frequent guest on FOX Business News with Neil Cavuto, Stuart Varney, Liz Claman and Dave Asman with additional guest appearances on the CBS Evening News, Bloomberg TV and radio. He may be reached by phone at (512) 977-9900, ext. 10, or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]
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