“Eric, I need to talk to you, please come to my office at 10.” Words that will never be met with “Oh Yea! Let’s do that!”
The music conductor raises the baton, the audience holds their breath, and the orchestra is laser focused on his next action…
Most leaders are aware that their words and actions will be scrutinized and interpreted, from inside and outside. All words, expressions, actions and deeds, however small or grandiose, will have meaning attached to it and instantly spread and amplified. The interpretation may be accurate, or it may be way off base. Regardless, the broadcast is happening.
Public speakers are trained to know that: “It doesn’t matter what you intended to say. It’s what landed with the audience that counts.”
There are two core messages in this story. The amplifier is both good and bad, it is a tool that can work for you or against you. And therefore, there are things a leader should and shouldn’t do. Let’s focus on a few things that should never be done as a leader:
- Verbalizing half-baked ideas
I worked with a boss many years ago who loved spit balling ideas. He would join a lunch conversation and come up with a few random ideas to build or innovate the business. A week later it would be quite normal to hear that a significant portion of the business will close to release funds for a new project somewhere else, we even saw project plans and budgets land on the executive table based a “Frank said….” conversation.
An author on this topic shared a story about his brother on an airplane. The plane dropped 1000 meters, the airhostess bumped her head and was unconscious, an infant flew two rows backward, but was uninjured. There was absolute silence from the cockpit. Not a word. The brother, and probably every other passenger was sweating with anxiety. Everyone felt unsafe and fearful until they deboarded the plane.
- Deliver ambiguous messages
“Eric, we need to talk”, or “Clear my schedule, I need to speak to the bank”, can all be interpreted a few ways, some fear inducing, some met with nervousness. Being very clear about the intent and topic of the meeting eliminates the need for speculation and wild meaning making journeys.
Be circumspect and responsible.
It pays for leaders to be circumspect about their communication. This isn’t to suggest you should second-guess yourself or use an inauthentic communication style. Rather, it’s about carefully considering the broader impact of your communications — both verbal and nonverbal — in all the settings where others experience you. It’s essentially about living up to the responsibility of leadership by deliberately thinking through all the impacts your communication will have.
PS: Is the lion yawning or roaring? What do you think?
- Galinsky, A. (2015, August 15). When You’re in Charge, Your Whisper May Feel Like a Shout. New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/jobs/when-youre-in-charge-your-whisper-may-feel-like-a-shout.html
- Porter, M. E., Lorsch, J. W., & Nohria, N. (2014, August 1). Seven Surprises for New CEOs. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2004/10/seven-surprises-for-new-ceos
- Valentine, G. (2019, February 28). It Doesn’t Matter What You Meant To Say: Make Your Message Land As A Leader. Forbes. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/02/28/it-doesnt-matter-what-you-meant-to-say-make-your-message-land-as-a-leader/?Sh=10ee3d35199f