5: The Law of E. F. Hutton

(EN: The chapter title refers to a series of commercials run in the 1970's in which a room full of people would fall dead silent when someone mentioned that their broker was EF Hutton, eagerly listening to what the person had to say. The notion is that people readily accept leadership of someone with a proven track record of success.)

The author opens with an anecdote about his first job - when he, as a pastor fresh out of seminary, assumed he would be presiding over the meeting of the board of a rural church. The board, composed of the church elders, was much older and more experienced than themselves, and he presents a dialogue in which a man called "Claude" held power: the others deferred to him for permission to speak, he initiated each motion and was quickly seconded, and when the conversation petered out, the others looked to him to introduce the next topic. The author's only contribution, as pastor, was to lead the group in the closing prayer.

His first instinct was to determine how to regain power [ but to simply stand up and insist he is the leader is not an option. A quote for Margaret Thatcher: "Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

Another idea was to try to push out Claude as the leader, but he recognized this would not work out well: Claude was well-respected by the board, and had been a church member his whole life, and had earned the respect of everyone else. He'd do more damage to himself by attempting to contend with such a person for leadership.

His solution was to leverage Claude rather than work around him: he visited Claude at his home and gently suggested some ideas, and ask if Claude agreed and would support them in the next board meeting, and this worked out well. "From then on, if I wanted to accomplish anything at that church, I just went out to the farm and did chores with Claude. I could always count on him to bring those things before the people."

Spotting the Leader

The author suggests a trick for determining which person has the greatest influence, which is useful when you are new to a group of people who know one another: watch their eyes. When there's a lull in the conversation, who do they (literally) look to; when someone asks a question, whom do they expect to answer it? Within five minutes, you can tell who is the real leader.

He also notes that people who are playing for position attempt to assume the mantle of a real leader: in order to be heard, they will interrupt or preempt others' attempts to speak. A genuine leader speaks later in the conversation (getting the last word is more important than getting the first) and others in the group defer to him (he doesn't need to be aggressive to get them to listen, they really want to listen).

When it comes to identifying a real leader, don't look to the actions of the person. "Actions" are just "acting" - and people who crave power often attempt to model the behavior of leaders, but lack a critical component: influence. The proof of leadership is found in the followers. And so, look to the group to determine who has influence. To whom do they listen? To whom do they defer?

(EN: I've also noticed that there are situations in which multiple people are contending for leadership - or more aptly, in which there is a real leader and another person attempting to depose him. It's often that the would-be deposer is more aggressive in his actions. The body language of those in attendance make clear which person they really support.)

He mentions this in his own experience as a pastor travelling from one church to another: in the opening example, Claude was the leader; in his second church, it was a man called Jim; in his third, people followed Steve. In each situation, he had to collaborate with a person that had leadership in order to gain influence in the group and, eventually, gain the trust of them.

When you start in a new position, you do not need to seize leadership immediately - and attempting to do so car be harmful to your long-term chances of gaining trust of a group. "The real test of leadership isn't where you start out; it's where you end up."

Leadership Qualities

People become leaders because they influence others to follow them. But to be more specific, people choose to listen them because of certain traits they exhibit. The author identifies seven key areas:

  1. Character (who they are) - The author uses vague terms such as "the inner person" and the "depth" of character.
  2. Relationships (who they know) - People will listen to a person who is well connected.
  3. Knowledge (what they know) - People listen to those who seem to know what they are doing as opposed to those who don't know the facts.
  4. Intuition (what they feel) - Again, the author is vague, speaking of "numerous intangibles."
  5. Experience (where they've been) - People listen to someone who has experience specifically related to the topic at hand.
  6. Success (what they've done) - People listen to a person who has accomplished good outcomes, even if it's not related to the topic.
  7. Ability (what they can do) - People will listen to a person they believe is able to accomplish things, regardless of their history.

The author then presents a description of a speech by Mother Teresa - who was by then a frail woman with a soft voice. People didn't interrupt here, even when she said objectionable things (for example, her denunciation of abortion in a Democratic assembly) or try to speak over her - they remained silent and listened intently, out of respect.

As such, the author reiterates that observing the way that others react to a person tells much about the speaker's leadership qualities. IF he is a listener, people want to hear what he has to say.