It's strange what things we remember from our childhood, the things that many times stand out for no apparent reason. For me, one of those events I remember as vivid as if it occurred yesterday was when my father, an aeronautical engineer by training, said to me, "Once you are out of school for a few years, you will, likely, never use the technical skills you learned earning your degree. Everything becomes about dealing with and managing other people." And how correct he was.
Yet, why are we all so terrible at communicating with other humans, even when we, intellectually, know exactly what we should say and what not say? Since this skill set is paramount to our business and life success, JAM Views periodically focuses on the tips and guides for effective communication. This talent is just like all the rest; we think certain lucky people just naturally have it, and most of the rest of us do not. But, in fact, this great talent is an acquired skill learned with great focus, great effort and innumerable mistakes and failures along the way. The list of reminders is probably infinite, but let's touch on just 8 quick ones this week:
1. Outside those rare moments when you must correct unacceptable behavior, in private, everything else must be positive, all the time. As the leader, the world is constantly watching you, especially when you least expect it. For the Boys and Girls Club to raise enough money to build the state-of-the-art center for the kids, and for your investment firm to outbid Goldman Sachs to handle Uber's IPO, the only option is to be wildly optimistic. Michael Lewis wrote of famous Israeli psychologist Amos Tversky, "Amos willed himself to be optimistic, because he had decided that pessimism was stupid. When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice."
2. The Buddhists and Siddha Gurus know that people feel you much more than they see or hear you. This is a little difficult to understand initially, since we are conditioned that we communicate through our voice. But we are beings comprised of pure energy deep inside every cell and atom in our body. When we are communicating with another person, or with an auditorium full of shareholders, we are bombarding them with our energy, positive or negative. They like us, believe us, and want to do business with us because of this energy. Most of the time they don't even understand what we are talking about, or what the PowerPoint slides explain, but they want to do business with us because of how we make them feel. You cannot fake this energy. You must develop a strong, positive, and courageous self-belief to be able to exude this energy and lead others.
3. The goal is to accomplish the mission, not to focus on "the principle." Much of the world is unprincipled, yet constantly argues for themselves, or holds grudges against others, "because it's just the principle of it!" Get over it, forget it, and focus on the goal.
4. Repeat what they say. Aside from the fun we have at cocktail parties repeating back to people exactly what they say to us (Another Post), reiterating back just a little of exactly what your co-worker or investor says to you, verbatim, neurologically produces in their brain feelings of validation, trust and teamwork. Try it this week and watch their reaction.
5. At the end of each meeting or conversation, reiterate and write down exactly what is expected, by whom, and when it is due. This extra 30-seconds saves contracts, relationships, and companies while the rest of the world leaves everything "floating." Lack of execution destroys all great intentions.
6. Don't speak in cliches and don't say what everyone expects a normal manager to say. Start meetings exactly on time, and don't say to the latecomer, "Nice of you to grace us with your presence Ms. Murphy." When introducing the speaker at the charity ball, don't say, "And without further ado." Be original. Don't be predictable. Don't allow others to place you in the vanilla mediocre box.
7. Leadership by example communicates more than one hundred years of speeches or memos could ever accomplish. One of my favorite quotes says it all, "I can't hear what you're saying, because I'm too busy watching what you're doing."
8. Every communication must bring us back to our mission, our purpose, and our goal. We leaders must examine all our statements to ensure they are congruent with our values and our game plan. Our communications must be laser-focused, consistent and constantly drive home why we are here. The superfluous commentary and distractions need to be deleted. Our company's culture "Cool-Aid" needs to be re-emphasized at every quarterly meeting and every annual retreat. All communications bring us back to the understanding of why, together, we started this journey in the first place.
This week let's all promise to pause, breathe, and focus on exactly what we are communicating to the world. We may be surprised at how much success a little focused effort here will bring. Practice, Practice, Practice.
"Every now and then the things I lean on lose their meaning, and I find myself careening." - James Taylor