In ball games such as football, rugby, basketball, and handball, the players are trained to “to keep their eye on the ball” and “tackle their opponents”.
They are trained not to be distracted by the “shenanigans” of the ball holder and to not “attack” the other player – ideally, they should be able to take the ball without touching the other person.
Leadership is (or should be) a very similar approach. Leadership is not about attacking or criticising people, leadership is not about name-calling or mocking people, leadership is not about belittling or putting down people and leadership is not about someone’s skin colour, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
Leadership is about tackling people’s ideas. Leadership is about explaining why you disagree, leadership is about trying to integrate different ideas, leadership is about cooperation and leadership is about accepting that your idea is not “the” idea.
You need to be able to stay focussed on the ideas & opinions of others; they may be trying to distract you with insults & invective and trying to drag you down to their level, but you need to stay factual and objective and concentrate “on the ball”.
Many, so-called, leaders today seem to have difficulty rising above diatribe; and when they do, they get stuck in debating. It’s rare to find a leader today willing to discuss, let alone the dizzy heights of engaging in real dialogue.
The ability to engage in dialogue with others is a key leadership skill.
Dialogue is much more than a simple conversation or a discussion or debate, dialogue is about “seeking a greater truth”; it is about getting beyond individual perceptions, interpretations, subjectivity, and judgements and coming to a kind of shared understanding and meaning.
Dialogue is about shared inquiry, it’s a way of thinking and reflecting together. It is not something “you do to” other people; it is something “you do with” other people.
A good example of dialogue is in the film “Twelve Angry Men”, one of the jury members is unsure of the verdict and he says that he “just wants to talk”; in fact, what he does (or tries to do) with the other jury members is to enter into dialogue with them. He doesn’t name call, he doesn’t criticise, he doesn’t attack, he is empathetic, he stays focussed, he asks a lot of questions, he accepts his own doubts and he tries to learn more about the situation from the viewpoints of the others.
Dialoguing is not easy, we all have our “preconceived ideas”, our “certainties”, our “truths” and putting them to one side is difficult.
Like all skills, it needs “purposeful practice” to become competent.
Remember; “When people start to criticise you instead of your idea, you are probably on to something”