We are all leaders at work and should view ourselves as such, no matter what our job title or salary happens to be. Further, most of us are leaders in the community through our volunteer contributions, large or small. And because YOU are a leader—at least in certain ways—it’s important for you to find your voice and use it. I believe this so strongly that, in my book soon-to-be-released on Amazon and Kindle, I devote an entire chapter to the topic of leadership voices.
What exactly IS a leadership voice? When you think about it, it’s an abstract concept. It’s an authentically articulated point of view based on integrating your values, vision, and purpose. Further, it’s having enough of a track record of success and accomplishments so people hear you because they perceive you as someone who is saying something of value. When you use your leadership voice, you state your opinions and ideas without apologizing. You speak strategically and with authority so you are not underestimated. You express your goals, expectations, and aspirations clearly –you don’t make people guess or assume. You frame everything positively and directly. You show that you can make tough decisions. You talk about your wins succinctly. The depth and breadth of your voice develops over time—not over night. It’s work in progress that never stops.
You don’t want to use the same leadership voice with every person in every environment in every situation. The goal is to become comfortable with several voices so you can vary your voice depending on the message you need or want to deliver, the people you will address, and the circumstances of that particular moment. I’m going to give you that information for three different voices right now.
This is an energetic, confident voice that touches folks at the emotional level and stimulates them to get up and get moving, to do great things for their companies and their careers, to exceed their expectations and yours. This is the voice that lights the fires of possibility in people’s bellies. It’s one of the most important voices you can develop and learn to use well. I say this because a leader’s motivating voice drives short term and long term organizational results. If you can truly inspire people to action, you set bodies and processes into motion. It’s powerful stuff. A lengthy professional history has shown me that the biggest reason employees don’t do their best work and fail to meet deadlines is lack of personal juice. They aren’t invested in what has to be done by a certain time. Why aren’t they invested? Well, there are many reasons for this, but some of the significant ones include: job mismatch, culture mismatch, stress related to money, or feelings of disinterest, usually associated with one’s supervisor.
This reasonable, curious, and measured voice probes for details about complex issues and seeks clarification when you don’t understand another point of view. It may also dig for the real reasons behind decisions and actions. Or, it may express disagreement. But whatever your why for using a questioning voice, avoid sounding hyper critical, condescending, rude, or mean. You want to get people thinking more deeply, and you want them to see the value in doing so. You also want to model this strategy so others can incorporate it into their way of conducting business. Throughout my career I discovered over and over again that most professionals listen at merely a surface level, converse at a surface level, make decisions at a surface level, and take surface level action. As a leader, it’s your job to get folks to go beneath the surface of everything. And you will do it by learning to ask the right questions….Now this is not about playing devil’s advocate, desiring to hear yourself talk, or trying to impress your staff, colleagues, or boss. Your questioning voice must not be rooted in the ego. It must come from your head, your gut, and sometimes even your heart.
This sensible, matter of fact, and restrained voice has the ability—and power—to influence ideas, decisions, behaviors, and actions. When used appropriately, it can convince people to believe what you believe, see what you see, and do what you want them to do. The voice of persuasion can move mountains—as long as you don’t use force. Verbal force is a turn-off and will have the opposite impact of what you desire. A persuasive voice isn’t used to get your own way all the time. A persuasive voice, employed appropriately, gets people thinking.
As you develop and use your leadership voice, I suggest that you keep in mind a few things like: frame everything you say in a way that resonates with your audience, whether that is one person, a small group, or a crowd; put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to determine the impact in advance or while you are talking; let folks get to know the real YOU by sharing your values, beliefs, and dreams; and make sure you demonstrate a genuine concern for them.
Here is what I know for sure: Every person who holds a formal leadership position or who is viewed as a leader for whatever reason must develop a voice in order to be seen as competent and credible.
You need to vary your leadership voice, depending upon the situation, the message you want to communicate, and the people involved. Everybody can develop a leadership voice—it’s a matter of acquiring the knowledge and then making the commitment to practice. Your leadership voice is not a fashion statement. It is a reflection of who you really are. You just need to experiment!
How do you know that you’ve acquired a credible leadership voice? You are getting people involved; you’re gaining trust; others are inspired by your confidence; you are leveraging your tools of the trade and your skillset in noticeable ways.
I have an entire chapter dedicated to this topic in my forthcoming book, Learning Leadership Through Loss: How to Leverage Personal Pain to Help Yourself and Others Succeed at Work, which is scheduled for Amazon and Kindle release at the end of March. Stay tuned for more details.
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