Finding your leadership voice

Within teams, especially leadership teams, it is often difficult to find your voice in the room. This is equally important when you are leading a team. Everyone is trying to ensure that what they are saying shows the full range of their knowledge, thoughts, and leadership potential. People react to these situations in different ways including, indulging in self-promotion, being louder than others, being quiet or thoughtful and reserved, not wanting to speak out of turn or feeling intelligently inferior to those in the room.

Each of these reactions leads to consequences of a positive and negative nature. Therefore, careful consideration needs to be given to the crafting of your leadership voice (also known as an executive voice).

Key considerations include:

  • The clarity of the messages you deliver
  • Whether your message has matched the context of the agenda or meeting
  • Whether people understand the part you want them to play in the conversation
  • Remaining unflappably calm when under pressure

If we understand the context of the meeting we are having (who is in the room, where the item being discussed sits in the agenda, the amount of time assigned to the item, other priorities in the organisation right now) we can communicate our idea with a voice of understanding, demonstrating why what we are talking about is important for the here and now. At the same time, by using your knowledge of your team, and explaining clearly how this idea impacts the long-term journey of the organisation, you can demonstrate how it will affect the work of others around the table, showing the scope of your vision.

This level of knowledge-rich communication requires the cultivation of strong strategic relationships. Understanding how each member of a team fits into the whole, while also understanding their goals, challenges and how you can support them is crucial when trying to communicate ideas to them. This level of knowledge allows you to speak from a credible position about the impact of any idea you might be discussing.

Leadership voice can occasionally be focussed too heavily on the problem at hand; don’t just point out the potential challenges of implementing an idea, but be solution focussed with your leadership voice, explaining the role others around the table can play in overcoming any hurdles.

When discussing ideas, pressures can be felt, including, time pressures, pressure to get it right the first time, pressure of expectations of performance, pressure from questions. Ensure your leadership voice stays calm within the pressure cooker. Stick to facts, or opinions based on the facts, rather than letting any emotion take over your language.

Amy Jen Su, author of “The Leader You Want To Be”, mentions 5 key leadership voices to cultivate over time:

CharacterThe part you usually play in conversations.

Do you normally play devil’s advocate? Are you usually the critical friend in the room? Do you normally focus your responses on the feasibility of the logistics within a solution?
ContextThe knowledge you bring of the bigger picture, and the role you want people to play within it.

How do you share this knowledge with others?  Do you explain why you are talking about the topic at hand? Do you convey to others what you want them to do with the information you are giving them?
ClarityWhat you do and say that focusses people on the key, most important priorities.

Have you clarified with others what the big wins are for them from the idea being discussed? Have you given members of the team the opportunity to say no, ask for greater detail, or shape the idea?
CuriosityHow you ensure that you do not try to fix every problem and make every decision.

Have you asked all in the room for their thoughts on an idea? (This is not always useful!) Are you asking aesthetic questions, considering why people think what they feel about a specific idea being discussed?
ConnectionThe way you communicate to ensure your ideas connect with your audience.

How are you selling the story of your idea, and how you have got to where you are? Do you express gratitude, thanking and acknowledging people for their contributions and questions? Do you spend a few minutes as a team just “catching up” before getting down to the business discussion?

It can be difficult to realise that your leadership voice is not as fully developed as you wish it to be. However, it is one of the most crucial tools in the box. What you say, when you say it, how you say it and who you say it to, really does matter.

Further Reading:

https://hbr.org/2018/01/you-dont-just-need-one-leadership-voice-you-need-many

https://hbr.org/2017/10/to-sound-like-a-leader-think-about-what-you-say-and-how-and-when-you-say-it

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