In this world of spin-doctoring, impression management, and controlled messaging, knowing where someone stands is quite a victory.
I was recently engaged in a coaching conversation with a leadership development client. We, together, had reached agreement on our main goal for the work: helping him communicate with authenticity—yet we were fumbling through the process of coming up with action steps.
The experience was beginning to feel arduous.
Before long I figured out that communicate with authenticity was a very nice-sounding platitude to my client. He was saying: “I’m not sure how to track communicating with authenticity.” I determined that he meant: “This topic doesn’t seem important. Why are we even talking about this?”
I experienced a brief moment of panic because it felt as though things were going off the rails. Was I missing something? Was he missing something? Were we collectively wasting each other’s time?
Thankfully, I composed myself and began problem solving. I had to figure out what would make this concept real and meaningful to him.
I stumbled upon a gem.
In early 2014 I attended a workshop put on by a great organization called Bluepoint Leadership. The two-day workshop covered dozens of great topics about communicating with presence and authenticity. At one point the presenters talked about the three questions that people ask themselves anytime a leader talks.
According to Bluepoint…
When a leader speaks, everyone asks themselves three questions:
- Is this person committed to this?
- Will they say the same thing tomorrow?
- Will they say the same thing to others?
I decided to share this idea with my client. A long silence ensued. I finally asked if he was still on the line. He said that he finally got the point behind communicating with authenticity.
We went on to talk about how leadership is about more than simply being smart and coming up with good ideas, that leadership is about the person behind the ideas and the commitment that this person establishes in the organization.
My client is very smart and extremely organized, yet his communication style was stilted and confusing. He was deeply concerned about saying the wrong thing or upsetting other people. He did so with the best of intentions, no doubt, but he wound up being received as nervous and confusing. He wasn’t generating commitment from his people. He accepted the fact that his verbal gymnastics were getting in the way of people answering these three questions with any sort of confidence.
I was invigorated by the call. While I had known all the concepts I shared with him before the conversation, I had never strung all of them together in such an integrated, powerful way. I felt as though I had made a difference in his leadership development.
I then had a bizarre idea. I thought, is this same topic–authentic leadership–the reason behind Donald Trump’s transformation from humorous circus sideshow to influential political candidate?
As much as anyone else I’ve been horrified by much of Trump’s behavior. His language is hurtful and misogynistic, his ideas are crude and simplistic, and his solutions are vague or nonexistent.
But, guess what? You don’t need to wonder where he stands on the issues? You don’t need to read between the lines of his language. He’s saying what’s on his mind, with plenty of dramatic effect.
Perhaps the legacy of Trump’s candidacy will be that he woke us up to a long-lost aspect of what it means to be a leader? Although I believe that most of his ideas are bad, I do think that he’s saying what’s on his mind and that I know, with absolute certainty, that I don’t like him.
In this world of spin-doctoring, impression management, and controlled messaging, knowing where someone stands is quite a victory. Being sensitive to others is laudable; being completely opaque is not.
Leaders need to inspire commitment and confidence in their organizations, at least for those who want people to work for more than just a paycheck. Commitment and confidence won’t solely come from being smart of having good ideas. They will come from a real human being sharing genuine beliefs in a transparent way.
The impact of leadership communication—sometimes referred to as “how the message lands”—isn’t determined by precision. It’s determined by how well one human connects to another. It’s a function of being real.
So, who are you? What do you stand for? What do you want? What do you care about? If you’re a leader in an organization, people care about the answers to these questions much more than how smart you are and how sophisticated your ideas happen to be.
Look in the mirror and answer these basic, human questions, and then share them with people you care about. When you do so you’ll likely feel relieved—and you might even build a following.
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