Leadership Caffeine™-Why You Should Cultivate Your Inner Leadership Anthropologist

image of a coffee cupWhile there’s no substitute for live-fire action in learning to develop as a leader, well-honed skills of observation can provide useful perspectives on the actions and reactions of people to various leadership styles and approaches. 

Pull up a good chair, clear your mind and watch and learn as others in leadership roles finesse or fumble their way through their interactions. Take notes, and pay particular attention to those techniques that might reasonably fit under the headings of, “Great Approaches that People Respond To,” and “Thing’s I’ll Never Do When It’s My Day!

A Leadership Anthropologist’s List of Topics to Observe and Learn From:

1. How leaders…especially senior leaders engage people in large and small group situations.  How do they use verbal and non-verbal techniques to gain attention, communicate points and answer questions?

2. Importantly, how do people react to the leader being observed? After cultivating an understanding of the style and techniques of leaders you deem as effective or ineffective, focus on how people are reacting to the individual. Are they engaged, comfortable making eye contact and relaxed about asking questions, or, are they uncomfortable or even fearful?  What contributed to creating the reactions you are observing in others?

3. How do different leaders respond to differences of opinion? Do they fight back, shoot down or genuinely consider alternative points of view regardless of the source?

4. How do leaders at a peer level interact with each other? (I once worked for a firm where the senior leaders wouldn’t be caught dead engaging with each other…it showed and it adversely impacted our outcomes.)

5. In your organization, which leaders command respect? Why? What is it they do differently than those who don’t earn the same positive reviews?

6. How do the various leaders around you respond to adversity? Which styles seem to galvanize response and encourage creativity and which styles cause people to shutdown and withdraw?

7. How “authentic” do you perceive various leaders are in their dealings with you and others? What is it about a leader that helps you believe he/she is being true to self or authentic? The opposite?

8. Compare and contrast successful leaders with varying styles…from outgoing and charismatic to autocratic to quiet and servant oriented. What in your opinion works for these leaders? What doesn’t’ work?

The Bottom Line for Now:

You should want to learn how to strengthen your performance every day and with every interaction. One great way to gain context for what works with others and what doesn’t work is to observe the actions of leaders in your organization, …and importantly, observe the reactions of others to the actions of the leaders. Whether you are looking for best practices that resonate with you to things you’ve promised never to do to others, honing your powers of observation will most definitely pay dividends.

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By | 2016-10-22T17:11:29+00:00 June 11th, 2012|Leadership, Leadership Caffeine|2 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Andrew Meyer June 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm - Reply


    Great post. Reading it I was reminded of the old saying “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” When it comes to learning how to be an effective leader in a company, it’s also the smartest. Each company has it’s own culture and best way to get things done. The easiest way to learn that is by watching people who know how the system works.

    Your words are wise indeed,


    • Art Petty June 11, 2012 at 4:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Andy! -Art

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