This week, we return to our common theme of directly addressing leadership. What is it? How, specifically, does one accomplish effective leadership?

Sam Shriver is the Executive Vice President at The Center for Leadership Studies. In a recent LinkedIn Live episode, he interviewed Daryl Davis, an accomplished pianist and civil rights activist extraordinaire.

Davis has accomplished amazing shifts in perspective of some people who were deeply invested in their white supremacist ideologies. He’s done this with a unique style of communication. As we discuss here often, communication is one of the keys to effective leadership.

Below, I’ll discuss a few highlights of their conversation. However, you’ll miss the full impact of Davis’ communication technique without watching the interview. I promise it’s worth at least a listen!

Skipping to the 6:30 time in the video will jump past the introductory stuff, which I’ve already given you. In the last 20 minutes or so, Davis talks about how he’s viewed the civil rights movement evolving over the past 60+ years. Leaders at every level of government, and even businesses, have reacted very differently in the last few years than before that. All very important to him and to black leaders everywhere. With that said, that last part of the interview is off my topic. You may well find it interesting, but it doesn’t pertain directly to my theme of individual leadership and communication. If you choose to skip that, you can get the gist of my article in a bit over 30 minutes.

Leadership

Davis leads off his comments with this: True leaders want to help others do something better. More importantly, they want to help them learn to lead others in what they do.

In order to help others learn to lead, these leaders must develop trust in those who are following them. That’s the only way they can offer their followers useful advice, coaching, and mentoring.

After performing his music all over the world he concludes everyone, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, religion, or whatever wants to be:

  • Loved
  • Respected
  • Heard
  • Treated fairly
  • Able to provide the same things for their families.

By feeding these desires in others – especially their desire to be heard – he’s been able to communicate respectfully with people who appear to be his natural opponents.

Example: As a (very) black man, he developed a respectful and friendly dialogue with the Grand Marshall of the Ku Klux Klan! They visited each others’ homes and had an active friendship. Most of the video focuses on how he developed that communication and friendship.

In a conversation with anyone, particularly someone whom you know to have a different, and likely opposing, view to yours:

  • Keep your emotions in check. Keep them “behind you”.
  • Listen to what they say – until they’ve finished saying it. Remember, people want to be heard.
  • Present facts in support of your view, but not to confront or attack the other person or his/her views.

Davis engages people whose views he’s interested in studying. In those conversations, he’s sometimes attacked and insulted. He listens intently and respectfully to whatever they say. He doesn’t get “hooked” or take any of it personally. He says, “I may not respect what they say, but I respect their right to say it.”

Most people, Davis suggests, when they become aware of truths contrary to their beliefs, begin to experience “cognitive dissonance”. They gradually become uncomfortable with the disagreement between what they now know to be true and their established beliefs. They begin to wonder:

  • Do I stick with my old belief and ignore the truth? or,
  • Do I embrace the truth, and change my belief?

Are You Logical or Emotional?

Davis focuses in part of the interview on the reality that some people are swayed by facts and some by emotional concerns. Trying to use logic to sway an emotional person is futile, as is the opposite.

He provides an example of this: A white supremacist he knew quite well was murdered. The man’s emotional father vowed to kill the person he knew had killed his son. Davis avoided logic in convincing the man not to carry this out. He suggested “You have other children and grandchildren. If you commit murder, even in the name of ‘justice’, you will lose them as well. You’ll be in prison!” That emotional appeal swayed the man from avenging his son’s death. He was willing to endure the penalty until he realized how it would feel to be taken away from the rest of his family.

Perspective

One’s perspective is his or her reality. If someone is offered a new perspective that resonates with them, and it differs from their current reality. it may alter their reality. Davis offers a couple of scenarios to demonstrate this.

Daryl Davis is proud to claim that he’s the impetus for over 200 white supremacists changing their ideology. That happened because he offered them a new perspective.

He says “I did not convert them. They converted themselves by seeing a different perspective.”

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