‘The Leadership Challenge” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner shared the findings of extensive research that surveyed thousands of people asking, “What values, personal traits, or characteristics do you look for and admire in a leader?”
After further empirical analysis, they reduced the results to a list of 20 characteristics and surveyed more than 75,000 people around the world. The survey began in the 1980s and was repeated every five years over six continents, concluding in 2007. Would it surprise you to learn that over the entire research period, only four of the characteristics nearly always received over 60% of votes and were consistently ranked at the top across different countries?
Those four characteristics were:
I believe that brilliant piece of research also summarizes perfectly exactly what people want the world over from leaders each time they speak.
Having spent over 20 years leading from the front in executive positions, the one thing I am clear about above all else is that that when leaders fail to communicate they fail to lead. In fact, I remember a great mentor of mine 30 years ago saying to me, “Maurice, you know what I don’t like about my job is when people call me a bastard.”
That of course seemed entirely reasonable at the time as I couldn’t imagine liking that myself very much; however, he then went on to say, “The only thing I hate more than that is when they call me a stupid bastard.”
He explained his concern that in his view it meant he hadn’t communicated effectively as a boss.
If you search the term “leadership” on Amazon, you will find over 130,000 results, but what many of them fail to address is the impact leaders make each time they speak. It’s our belief at Mindful Presenter that effective leaders use every speaking opportunity to influence, inspire and connect with people. Whether you are speaking in the board room, at a conference, a management meeting, in the elevator or at the water cooler, you are presenting, and the four attributes you need have already been uncovered.
We believe the question for today’s leaders is, “Just how do you present using these attributes that your teams clearly value?”
It sounds really simple, doesn’t it, but what does that really mean when you’re presenting to your team?
Authenticity is the foundation for honesty when it comes to presenting to your team. This means losing the “corporate speak,” the “politics” and “hidden agendas” and being straight forward and transparent. As leaders, most of us spend more time at work with our teams than we do with our own families. When we finally get to go home after a hard day’s work, we wouldn’t dream of drowning our loved ones with the corporate cliches over dinner — so drop them at work, too.
In other words, you may well be the boss, but you are also someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother, and whoever you are speaking with is one of those, too. So, be honest with yourself and them by being the real you.
- Don’t try to be perfect or even impressive; just deliver your message as yourself.
- Focus on communicating and connecting rather than being someone.
- Have a conversation rather than give a presentation.
- Don’t just talk. Listen, too.
- Prepare to be a little vulnerable and tell them how you feel.
- Let them see the real you by sharing something of yourself.
Remember that the people you are speaking with are intelligent, creative, responsible human beings who are discerning, and the one thing they demand and value more than anything is trust.
That is something that can only be achieved with honesty, and if you lose it, then it’s lost for good.
When I first stepped on to the “corporate ladder” some 30 years ago, a former boss of mine shared a powerful truth with me. He said, “The only people who need to be motivated are the people who can’t see a future.”
That statement was not only the catalyst to launching my professional life, but also my personal life, too.
Leaders need to be forward-looking, they need vision, and it needs to be at the forefront of their communication each time they speak. Vision lets everyone know what’s important and where they are heading. It should shape everything leaders say and do. When it comes to speaking with vision, there are a number of principles every leader needs to follow:
- It needs to be clear, simple and highly focused. If you have a number of messages to share people need to know which is the most important and should take priority.
- It must be positive. Leadership is about inspiring confidence, passion and possibility, and each time you present the future, it has to be in the positive.
- It needs to be credible. If you want them to aim for the moon, then you’ll have to make sure you give them a spaceship and show them how to use it. Whatever you say and however you say it, people have to believe your goals are attainable.
Poor speakers present information while more compelling speakers inspire thought, belief and action, and that’s the role of leadership. At Mindful Presenter, every day we see leaders present content that focuses exclusively on people getting the message on an intellectual level. That’s all well and good, but for the most part the reality is an audience of sleepy, nodding heads affirming their understanding with nothing really going in because there is no emotional connection.
Leaders need to speak to inspire not simply inform.
- Understand your audience and empathize with them. Put yourself in their shoes before you ask them to step into yours.
- Tell them stories — relevant but powerful ones that can help them feel something.
- Show them what’s possible and why. Use examples, case studies, analogies and metaphors.
- Speak with passion, energy, conviction and belief.
- Give them hope and help them to see the future.
It goes without saying of course that no one wants to work for an incompetent leader. Equally, no one wants to waste their time listening to an incompetent speaker. When it comes to presenting, an audience can sense incompetence within moments. The speaker is disorganized, unfocused and has no clear message as he rambles on and on with complete disregard for his audience’s time or feelings.
The competent leader is also a competent speaker:
- They understand their audience and speak in terms and language they understand and can relate to.
- They use visual aids effectively. Never present too much text, data or read slides.
- They have a clear message and get to the point.
- They use their voice effectively — pitch, pace, tone and volume — and they pause.
- They speak with their body as well as their voice, and it’s congruent.
- They choose their words carefully.
- They are focused, organized and take their audience on a journey.
At Mindful Presenter, we believe that one of the greatest challenges leaders face today is speaking and living these four attributes. It’s really not that difficult, though; all you need to remember is that each time you speak, you are leading, and your listeners want only you to be honest, forward-looking, inspiring and competent.
Maurice De Castro is director at Mindful Presenter and a former executive at companies such as Interflora and Direct Line Insurance.