maandag 21 januari 2013

The Key Component in Leadership Communication

Let's face it, I am no brilliant spokesman. Would you put me in front of a crowd, unprepared, with ten minutes to express my inner thoughts, you will likely find me stuttering and stumbling over words. I do not use clever phrases or catchy buzzwords. I do not have a radio voice, gentle and pleasant. I lack charisma, let alone radiate any level of seniority with my presence.

Being raised in an environment of debate, my rhetoric excels in defensive, absolute statements but seldom succeeds to express understanding and compassion. I often catch myself using words that enlarge differences rather than bring people together. But what if I had a dream to share, one that people would want to share and follow? A vision of a better world, so compelling, that it requires hundreds, thousands or maybe even millions of people to achieve? Will they be inspired by it or distracted by the clumsy way how I would tell them the story?

I have always believed a leader needs to be able to communicate, and communicate well. But when I say 'communicate', I actually mean to connect and resonate ideas. Has the message been well-received? Was the other party understood? To this day, I have been indecisive about whether a leader has to be good with words as well. I know that it is about making things understandable and relevant, but does that involve persuasive speech? Are people following a vision or the visionary? Or always both?

History has given us a fair share of charismatic leaders. Political, ideological, religious, artistic or business leaders with the power to persuade. Some of them had brilliant ideas beyond their own desires, others were clearly more narcissistic and self-serving though equally praised. But history has also proven that many would follow the dreams and directions of visionaries who would not say much and did not enjoy public presence to the point of being shy. And then there is the phenomenon of critical mass, people following an idea because so many others have already went before them, basically trusting other people's judgement. So what is the key component of leadership communication?

I will probably disappoint a lot of readers now when I say I do not have a straightforward answer for you. What I do know is that what has touched me in many of these communications: PASSION. A leader could wrap up words in gold for that matter, but if the words fail to show any true passion it would certainly fail to capture me, regardless how eloquently phrased. Over the years with my employer, I have had the privilege to give lectures about several HR topics in our internal management trainings. What I have noticed is that my own interest in the topic was a measure for the appreciation the participants would give to me. I could even see myself real-time losing connection with a group of students over subjects that lack my interest.

Knowing that passion is the key to connect with people, you may want to rethink your own passion for the ideas that you need to communicate as a leader to your community. It could very well be that you do not find great passion for every idea within. But as your wider vision probably thrives on an assembly of smaller ideas, find that other passionate person in your environment who can get people energized about that specific one. And give that person ownership over that part of the story.

Leadership communication is for me not about the wrapping, but the gift within. What say you?

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