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“Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice” – lesson in leadership

By G. Balasubramanian

Displaying his wit and wisdom, Shakespeare sends a powerful message in his play “Hamlet” through his character Polonius in conversation with his son leaving for studies abroad. “Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.” An effective leader measures every word of his speech, the timing and space between the words, the tonality and its articulation. He needs to be correct in terms of the content and the meaning packed into each word. He must be socially, culturally and politically correct in conveying his message, lest people tend to make several meanings of the words which are often used to create situations that lead to conflicts, confusions, war of words and in that process to make one’s profile inferior or debatable. Words are often sources of energy that can make or break a person or the behaviour of a group. “If intelligence is the triumph of life, the spoken word is the marvelous means by which this intelligence is manifested” says Maria Montessori

“It was my ambition all of my life to be master of the spoken word” said Sir Winston Churchill, known for his qualities of leadership. He added “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.

Maggie was occupying a position of authority leading a team of sixty people. She is adored for her smile, her ability to reach out to people and buoyant words. She loves talking to people and that is her weakness. She talks to everyone freely and finds it difficult to control her words. She pours out her heart and tells everyone what she thinks of others and their performances. She reveals all her plans thinking as if everyone will appreciate her how she is able to think ahead of situations. She hardly realizes that people take advantage of her words and talk about them in their groups with different perceptions. She is considered one who can be easily manipulated. She needs a lesson on the maxim “Brevity is the soul of wit”

Roger was indeed a great administrator. However, his weakness was an outcome of his sense of insecurity about his lower qualification and skills as compared to the people collaborating with him. He always felt ‘the enemy is out there’ when anyone walked into his chamber. He always started with an offence so that everyone who meets him takes a defensive position. He believed creating a sense of fear in the people who wanted to converse with him, especially the people who collaborated with him. Chatting with some of his colleagues, he said “Fear works. They do not dare to frequent you with their problems.” He did not realize that his team always looked at him with a sense of contempt. When Smith approached him with the request: Roger, I want you to listen for some time” his curt replay was “I am not here to listen to everyone and waste my time. I am here to get the work done. If you have a problem, that is yours. I just want you to work and listen to what I say.” Listening to others is an important requisite for an effective leadership. Often, a patient hearing solves half the problem. "The art of conversation lies in listening" says Malcom Forbes.

Bhatia was the chief executive of the company. He had generous and amiable personality. Though everyone liked to meet him, they were scared remembering the words of Shakespeare “I am Sir Oracle, when I ope my lips let no dog bark” He speaks, speaks and speaks. He does not let any one does it when he meets them. Even when someone wants to intervene to make a remark, he used to say ‘Just wait, let me finish: and the talk continues endlessly. As a leader, people think, he lacks focus and absence of goal orientation. Minhas received a call at home and his wife took the call, she said “Minu, your boss is online.” Minu responded by saying “tell him, I am out to the market. If he starts speaking now, the whole evening would be gone.” She laughed heartily. “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books" said H.W. Longfellow

A leader must acquire certain amount of proficiency over his communication skills. The following suggestions are worth considering:

  1. Understand the needs of the person talking to you and meet his exact needs.
  2. Ensure the quality of conversation with focus, attention, speed and purpose.
  3. Time the conversation to avoid unwarranted communications.
  4. Do not mix professional discussions with personal dialogues.
  5. Avoid third party references in the discussion as far as possible.
  6. Look into the eyes of the person with whom you converse to create trust and confidence.
  7. Develop the capacity to listen to people before you speak.
  8. Avoid interventions before someone completes his talk
  9. Choose words which are socially, politically correct.
  10. Avoid slangs, unparliamentary words and those which hurt or demeaning.

A good leader reveals through his words his wit and wisdom, his intellect, his diplomacy, his statesmanship. While the leaders often must be assertive in their conversation, it is important not to be rude. While wit and humor could be a part of a conversation, it would be good to rethink before inflicting with satire and pun. Words need to be articulated that they do not trigger emotions excessively. Clarity in communication is vital for ensuring the purpose of communication. Word play is indeed an intellectual game.