5 Secret Communication Codes for Great Leaders
In the age of 144 characters, Instagram, and OMG, BFF and LOL, authentic communication has taken a back seat to brevity and expediency, often at the expense of clarity and accuracy. From my research, I believe we want leaders whom we can readily connect with, trust their words, and believe in their commitment to a build a better future for more than the ‘chosen” and/or special interests.
I do believe there is a secret code—because if it wasn’t secret, we’d see more leaders using these straight-forward communication concepts.
1. Use real language over ad copy.
Real language consists of unpolished phrases, hesitations, and vernacular. Real language is passionate and personal. Corporate speak goes out the window when the CEO sits on the stage, legs dangling and then talks upfront and personal with the rank and file. Or consider Martin Luther King’s speech in which he used everyday language to paint a picture of a dream.
Corporate speak goes out the window when the CEO sits on the stage, legs dangling and then talks upfront and personal with the rank and file.
2. Use symbols instead of spreadsheets.
Numbers on a page and banners on a wall have no emotional buy-in. Look at the current dramatic increase in donations to ALS because of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The horrific data behind ALS has not shifted but rather, when 29 year-old Pete Frates, BC grad and former college baseball player announced he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), he prompted a scheme to raise awareness and raise research money. Freeze out the disease for which death is the only outcome. (To be fair… social media has spread this symbol and generated a massive response. But without the symbol, social media would not have had such success.)
3. Share wisdom instead of data.
Data points, calculations, and statistical bar charts and graphs might look good but what do they all mean? As a former debater, I can tell you there are many ways to slant data to reinforce the point you want to make. What we seek is wisdom from the data. A great leader also invites others to dissect what data “might” mean, not seeking absolutes but trends, insights, and innovations. From wonder comes wisdom.
A great leader also invites others to dissect what data “might” mean, not seeking absolutes but trends, insights, and innovations.
4. Use storytelling instead of telling.
Leaders need to be great teachers. Great teachers use stories as a way to make a point memorable. Consider the parables from the Bible, Aesop’s fables, or the letter from a non-profit that relates the STORY of a person who was helped by the charity. We read. We hear. We remember. Facts tell. Emotion sells.
Inside an organization, a great leader asks employees, “Tell me why we’re in business.” If the answer is a blank stare, a finger pointing to a posted mission statement, or the response, “to make money”, you’ve lost engagement.
Ask for a story about when the employee was excited by his work. If no one’s excited, if there are no stories, the next question would be: “Can you make up a story that would have you go home at the end of the day feeling great?“ The child of a clinical researcher in a global pharmaceutical company obviously listened to her mother’s stories. When asked what her mom did, the little girl immediately responded, “You make medicines for sick children.” That’s a story!
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5. Practice dialogue instead of discussion
The word “discussion” has the same root as “percussion”, the musical instruments that you hit like steel drums, cymbals, bongos and the like. The word “dialogue” actually comes from two Greek words–dia, meaning “through,” and “logos”, most frequently but only roughly translated in English as “the meaning.”
A leader who uses dialogue seeks to dig deeper into what someone is saying. It means practicing naïve listening, refraining from judgment and listening as if everything is new information. One can never tell what gems might be reveled.
Like all great secrets, we yearn to share them. Do so. Teach them to everyone. Looks simple but takes practice. But it beats only using emoticons and a limited character count.
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