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On Leadership: Communication Strategies for Better Team Performance

First posted on the UVA Global Network

What makes a great leader? Great is the key word because “we’re not looking for just good” (as I was once told in an interview). We have each seen examples of excellent and horrific leadership. I’ve witnessed ownership give paychecks a week early for Hurricane Sandy relief and I’ve seen management that enjoys making employees cry. Everybody has a different style of leadership, but some are more effective than others.

Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells was famous for treating players differently, including such polarizing stars as Lawrence Taylor and Terrell Owens. Parcells’ leadership style was sometimes criticized for being unfair, which prompted his response: “I’m not interested in being fair. I’m interested in being right.” Most leaders are interested in being both right and fair, as far as each is possible. Honest communication is of the utmost importance for developing cohesiveness and trust in fair, right leadership.

One strategy for building a cohesive unit is encouraging casual conversation. Talking just for the sake of talking reinforces a leader’s approachability and concern for employees so that they will feel comfortable bringing up problems or new ideas with team leadership and with each other. In high school, a football coach used to ask me to tell a story before each summer practice. I became more and more comfortable as a new part of the team as this was part of an overall approachability the coach cultivated, but he didn’t waste the opportunity to lead either. He shocked me once when he asked if I thought I was a man. After I responded in the affirmative as I thought I should, he said, “That’s interesting. I wasn’t a man until after college.” Modeling honest communication in leadership through informal channels increased team cohesiveness under this coach and also established a precedent for feedback that was necessary for team success.

Along the same lines, the best professor I had in college showed that admitting one’s ignorance is a great way to build trust. When our professor fielded student questions to which he did not have an answer, he would respond, “I don’t have an answer now, but I’ll get back to you with one.” He always came back with an answer, and we always gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Honesty gets a lot more traction than the alternative. In my experience, dishonesty is often transparent and one of the quicker ways to lose trust and unravel your team. Talk informally with your employees and answer questions honestly to cultivate trust and team cohesion. We can’t all be in the Hall of Fame, but we can improve our leadership in the interest of being right and fair.

What are the qualities or strategies that you think make great leaders?

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Say Hello — About a Man About Town

Alaric J. Hammell was born in the Appalachian lowlands of southeastern Ohio and was raised on the Ohio River in West Virginia. He gained appreciation for his roots after stints in New Jersey, Oklahoma and Manhattan. Following love to Virginia, Alaric makes his home with his fiancée in Charlottesville and his living with wizardry in content development, marketing and social media strategy.

OK, now that we’re done with the fluff, let me slide into a first person narrative for the remaining of this introduction. If you’re still reading, then you should at least get something more for your effort than the vague dust jacket bio above.

Quixotic flâneur

Exploring the city gets me up in the morning. And when I say, the city, I mean *the* City. I love New York and cities like her, which partly explains my difficulty getting out of bed in Charlottesville. It’s a wee bit smaller.

There is, however, much to explore. History lives here, mostly because the University is still obsessed with Mr. Jefferson and racial segregation persists, but I have explored and found much to like nevertheless.

Footloose amateur

This year is the first time since the last decade that I’ve spent longer than a year in once place. It also will likely mark the first period on a similar timeline during which I will be working in the same industry. Attaching oneself to another will do that to you.

So I now find myself more anchored and professional than ever before. I get itchy to get up and go. Convincing myself that it’s okay to accumulate some possessions because I won’t be moving myself across the country is difficult. My professional expertise continue to expand at ludicrous speed.

I’ve gone plaid, and there appears to be no turning back. Check back as I continue to historicize myself. Though I stay in one place, everything is in flux.

Wannabe raconteur

Don’t we all have a dream? My dream may be a little tame and undifferentiated from others, but I desire to tell stories through oral, written and visual media. How many white guys want to be writers? I suffer the affliction of hubris, just as well. Who wants to hear what I have to say? Nobody maybe, but I’ve always felt drawn to the asynchronous nature of storytelling. I feel comfortable with that control. I also kind of like the stage.

The full realization of my dream takes my lottery winnings to a Mediterranean island off the coast of Greece. Waking up in the noon o’clock range to the smell of the sea and the promise of lazy labors of love: eating, reading, writing, walking and talking (all in the name of foreplay).

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman

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31 books in 52 weeks, or too much free time

The Reading List 2010

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (January 6)

On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner (January 8)

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (January 13)

How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies, Robert Dale Parker (February 18)

What’s the use of truth? Pascal Engel, Richard Rorty (February 23)

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, Walter Mosley (February 25)

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, Christopher McDougall (March 10)

The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason (March 11)

Darwin, Tim Lewens (Routledge Philosophers series) (March 21)

Dewey’s Critical Pragmatism, Alison Kadlec (March 26)

Philosophy and Social Hope, Richard Rorty (March 28)

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (April 29)

Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerny (April 30)

The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (May 5)

Morality and the Human Goods: An Introduction to Natural Law Ethics, Alfonso Gomez-Lobo (May 14)

Moby-Dick, or The Whale, Herman Melville (June 9)

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (July 3)

The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology, Peter Singer (August 26)

The Case for Literature, Gao Xingjian (August 31)

The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert (September 1)

The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, Neil deGrasse Tyson (September 5)

The Secret Goldfish: Stories, David Means (September 21)

The Pragmatic Turn, Richard J. Bernstein (October 14)

Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, Cornel West (October 19)

Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word, Toni Morrison, ed. (October 22)

Willful Creatures: Stories, Aimee Bender (October 31)

Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams, Alfred Lubrano (November 16)

Allentown: a novella, Bayard Godsave (November 17)

Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life, Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi, ed. (December 10)

The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Fiction, Joyce Carol Oates, ed. (December 10)

Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order, Noam Chomsky (December 18)