Most of us assume that we are primarily conscious beings with an intellect that plans, weighs objectives and options, and directs action — like having a movie director sitting in our heads. But in fact, our unconscious thought processes are far more sophisticated and influential than we have previously acknowledged. And this counterintuitive fact has important implications for leadership.
Instead of rational beings driven consciously by ideas, we are mostly unconscious beings driven by intents and needs that often happen in the blink of an eye before we are aware of them. We seek safety; we judge others; we duck incoming missiles; we analyze our surroundings; we give reassuring hugs; we make instant decisions about our feelings and how others are going to behave toward us. We do all of this unconsciously, and in nanoseconds, long before our conscious minds catch up to what’s going on.
That’s counter-intuitive, but it’s what the research shows to be true. We are unconscious beings, for most of the time and for most of what we do.
All of that unconscious activity is going on constantly, under the surface, faster than we can think ‘out loud’. It is only afterward that we come up with conscious rationales for what our unconscious minds have already decided for us.
This means that a good deal of the important work of being a leader — creating strong bonds with followers and colleagues, evaluating the mental states of people around us, persuading others to share a vision that we can see but others cannot — begins at the unconscious level of the leader’s mind. Leaders who focus only on the conscious dialogue will ultimately be half-complete leaders — and not the most important half at that.
Are strong communication skills essential for successful leadership? In many ways, leadership is communications, since leaders are defined by their followers, and you can’t create, inspire, and direct followers without communicating with them.
A leader who is a strong communicator has a chance to be successful through his or her followers. A weak communicator has no chance at all.