Think of the best teacher or mentor you ever had. Did you like her because she made learning and doing more complicated or because she made things simpler?
Imagine asking a teacher to clarify the expectations for the final exam and she said:
“Look, we are taking a measurement of our core competencies so that we can empower each of you to focus on best practices moving forward, thereby better leverage our skillset and begin to think outside the box. The better able we will be to do robust work and capitalize on our key learnings for this year.”
(Ah, yes. I see so darkly now.)
What is probably funny to some of you is that this is almost verbatim from actual meetings you have either had or (to be more honest with ourselves) have actually said to other people in meetings.
There is this phenomenon that seems to happen as we gain proficiency in a particular organization where we start to develop a code of talking that sounds important and may even convey a level of confidence, but that doesn’t actually say anything. It is a safe way to be heard in a meeting, claim some authority but not be pinned down by any specifics.
And let’s face it, details are hard. It is so much easier to say nothing and sound smart than to say actual things and run the risk that people might realize that you aren’t really that smart.
The other problem that we could imagine having with a teacher/boss is when she is asked a question to clarify expectations, she responds by telling you every detail that you just heard verbatim.
The impact is like having all the information vomited onto you in the hope that you will be able to take whatever information you need in order to better understand.
(Here you go. I hope this helps.)
While both of these skills work well to create the impression of authority in the lower levels, they can negatively impact your ability to be perceived as a higher level authority figure or as an executive.
Leaders who are able to bring clarity and communicate calm in meetings are able to better motivate, influence and direct others to a higher purpose. Those who make directions and expectations more complicated by speaking in generalized buzzwords or by overloading people with details tend to be seen as being less trustworthy or credible.
Now, if you are like me, you might be thinking “Hey, I know a lot of people who are Executives and who always talk in buzzwords. Yes. That is true, and yet if you really think about who are the leaders that command the most respect, are they the ones who bring confusion or are they the ones who bring clarity and communicate calmly?
In Rebecca Shambaugh’s piece in Harvard Business Review, she outlines elements that Executives need to have a good “Executive Voice.” Some of these elements are political in nature, meaning that they are about understanding your audience and the timing of how you share something with a group, while other parts of it are about the way you present information and how you are able to tie it to the overall business picture or the audience’s own motivations.
Either way, the key to having more of an “Executive Voice” is in understanding how to clearly and concisely outline your perspective and to respond to confusion or uncertainty with simple and clear direction.
Anyone looking for ways to be perceived as more “executive” in nature or who is looking to be respected as an authority figure that brings value to people outside his/her team, learning how to speak in this way will certainly help you and help your organization.
For more information on how to have a better “Executive Voice” you can check out this full day workshop that I am doing in December. The number of slots are limited, so sign up soon.