As a leader, your voice speaks much louder than your actual words. Your voice isn’t just what you say, it’s how your team hears you, and the collective tone your actions and communication take. Does your voice represent you and your message as well as it could?
Over time, the best leaders are able to make their ideas and influence resonate far outside their own ambits. Here are six ways to get your voice to carry throughout your entire organization.
Yes, it’s an overused word, but I think that’s because our idea of what’s “authentic” is too narrow. It’s not just about transparency or vulnerability, it’s also about letting the people you lead see what you truly care about. Resonant leaders are genuinely invested in their work, and it shows. It’s easy for team members to see that they truly have “skin in the game” and care not only about short-term results, but also about long-term impact. As Tim Schigel, cofounder of the social sharing platform ShareThis, told me, “Authenticity doesn’t have to amplify.” When you’re truly invested in your message, you don’t have to shout. It’s apparent to others, and it lends credibility to your leadership.
To begin cultivating authenticity, ask yourself, “Can the people on my team see what I stand for, or do they have to guess?”
Authenticity alone isn’t sufficient. Resonant leaders have the courage to make clear decisions, even in the face of uncertainty. The word “decide” comes from the Latin word that means “to cut off.” You’re choosing to cut off other options and commit to one direction, even when you’re uncertain. However, many leaders prefer to keep their options open for as long as possible out of fear of getting it wrong and failing. But you have to be willing to commit to a path by following your intuition and making bold, unique decisions with the best information you have available. This isn’t a license to be foolish or rash, but a recognition that every needlessly delayed decision has a trickle-down effect on your team’s focus and productivity. You need to stand apart from those seeking safety over impact.
To begin cultivating uniqueness, ask, “Where am I being ambiguous about a decision, and how might it be affecting my team?”
When faced with a difficult choice, some leaders go into “protect mode” rather than being precise with their language. In order to make your ideas resonate, you can’t leave room for misinterpretation about where you stand on an issue or what you expect from team members. Be like a laser, not a lighthouse. A lighthouse tells ships where not to go, but provides no navigational guidance beyond helping them avoid danger areas. A laser, on the other hand, is precise, cutting, and directional. Your team needs to know what you expect of them, even when they don’t like it. Precise leaders can be polarizing, but in the end they make everyone’s job easier to navigate.
To begin cultivating precision, ask, “Where are my instructions vague, and where am I being defensive rather than forthright with my ideas?”
Your voice won’t resonate if it isn’t consistent. Again, this sounds obvious on the surface, but meeting day-to-day challenges can make it difficult. If your work lacks a strong through-line, it can become easy to treat projects as one-off events rather than as a part of a bigger strategy. If you regularly send dissonant messages, it might be difficult for team members to anticipate how you’ll respond in a given situation. And that in turn can lead to paralysis. There should be consistency in the choices you make and a consonance to the way you communicate them.
To cultivate consonance, ask, “Where am I being inconsistent, and how can I give my decision-making and communication more uniformity?”
How deeply do you connect with your team? Is your leadership coming from a position of empathy, or are you trying to control behavior? Jeremy Pryor, co-founder of Epipheo Studios, told me that the digital video company’s ambition is to make the audience the hero for any work it produces. The messaging is always centered around the audience’s needs and aspirations, rather than its own. Starting from a position of empathy, especially during difficult conversations, can make a major difference. SEEK, an innovation consultancy, applies a four-step process to help cultivate empathy:
- Decide to choose empathy over easier, short-cut options
- Identify a time when you’ve experienced a similar event
- Recall how that event affected you and relive the emotions
- Then act based upon your newfound understanding
Taking a few moments before communicating an idea to walk through these four steps can help you connect more deeply with your team.
To begin cultivating greater empathy, ask, “How can I can build common ground with my team?”
The best idea delivered at the wrong time will fall flat. There’s no way to perfectly time ideas, but the most resonant leaders are mindful of how timing affects their ability to hit the mark. Making your message resonate is about more than just what you care about or what your team cares about, it’s also about staying sensitive to the ideas that already have some momentum within your organization. By staying aware of those undercurrents, you can time your message so that it has a better chance of resonating in the right place at the right time.
To increase your chances of resonating, ask, “Is this the appropriate time to deliver this idea? Is there anything already being discussed that I can connect my own idea to in order to give it context?”
Your voice is your single greatest possession as a leader. It’s what allows you to mobilize and direct your team, and ultimately it’s how you build a body of work you can be proud of. If your work matters to you, make the effort to cultivate a voice that resonates, and you’ll find your influence multiplying in ways you never expected.
This article is adapted from Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice by Todd Henry, author of three books and an expert on what makes leaders and teams especially effective when it matters most. It is reprinted with permission. Learn more at toddhenry.com, or follow him on Twitter @toddhenry.