There’s a big problem with our communication-happy world. We put a premium on frequency and content while sacrificing something perhaps more important: the delivery. Of course what you say and write matters, but how you say it, how you relate to people, is what separates great leaders from the pack.
Unfortunately, a lot of folks have the wrong idea about what it means to be an effective communicator, these days. They put a premium on being sensitive, non-offensive, inclusive, and politically correct. None of that, my friends, will serve you well in a management or leadership role.
Interestingly enough, with all that emphasis on all the wrong things, it’s never been easier to differentiate, to shine brightly against a backdrop of diluted, amorphous, watered-down messages with happy faces on them.
I’ve worked with lots of executives with a knack for connecting with people, but my favorite public example is Food Network chef Robert Irvine. If you’ve never watched this guy turn around restaurant owners, you’re missing the work of a true artist. He’s direct, he’s genuine, he tells people what they need to hear, and he never minces words.
But here’s the thing. When he really wants to get through to someone, he knows just how to do it: He puts his hand on the guy’s shoulder, looks him straight in the eye, and speaks from the heart. That perfect balance of directness and empathy that comes naturally to Irvine and others I’ve worked with is something every aspiring leader should strive to achieve.
If you’re open, adaptable, and motivated to achieve great things, here are five ways to communicate like a great leader.
Be genuine and direct. Be the genuine you. Aspire to be the best version of you, not someone or something you’re not. Don’t over-think or over-process what you know you need to say. Don’t oversell and don’t BS. Also you can be genuine and direct without being a jerk about it. You can be hard on people without insulting them. When it comes to conflict or debate, stick to business; don’t make it personal.
Speak from your heart. Want to know what really motivates people? When they can relate to something that’s important to you in a way that makes it important to them. When you explain an idea, you may achieve understanding. But when you communicate your vision in a way that really connects with people, you will move them. And they will move heaven and earth to make it happen.
Be straight with people. It doesn’t matter if you’re communicating with a boss, a peer, an employee, a customer, or a shareholder – their relation to you should not alter your delivery. In other words, don’t talk up or down to anyone. Tell them what they need to hear, not what you think they want to hear. Don’t sugarcoat or blow smoke up anyone’s you-know-what. That doesn’t help them, reflects poorly on you, and always ends badly.
Become an emotional storyteller. It’s often said that people don’t remember facts; they remember stories. That’s not entirely true. It’s actually personal stories told with genuine feeling that have the potential to reach deep and connect with people in the soul of their being. If a personal story and the emotion behind it relates to people in a personal way, it will stick with them and motivate them to action.
Forget command and control. Some people have leadership presence. They seem to be born with it, but they’re not. It comes from having a genuine passion or vision and the ability to share it in a way that’s meaningful to others. It comes from having the self-awareness to be comfortable in your own skin and the confidence to unapologetically be who you are. That’s what breaks down barriers and opens people up. That’s when they really listen.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.