Leading Out Loud

Leaders, by definition, move other people to change. But in the past decade, cynicism and fear have increased substantially among the public, and enthusiasm to embrace any leader's call for reform, be it in business or government, has been considerably dampened.

In the face of this negative shift in attitude, many leaders attempt to motivate by threatening livelihood or offering rewards.

Compliance, however, is no longer adequate to gain competitive advantage or to solve social problems. Increasingly, leaders must instill commitment in others rather than merely demanding compliance. People must take individual and collective responsibility for the accomplishments and failures of their organizations or governments if those organizations are to thrive.

The unmistakable conclusion of contemporary social research is that people are eager to commit. They are truly starved to connect with competent, trustworthy leaders. The rapid pace and enormous scale of change have stripped away all vestiges of security, leaving the public in dire need of stability — stability not offered by leaders or officials who change principles with the latest poll or quarterly report.

Ironically, as the public hungers for connection, technology and "spin-doctors" push leaders further away from their audience. Concurrent with the growth of cynicism, expanded media influence and the growing authority of professional image makers have combined to exacerbate the problem, to distance leaders from the people who can make them successful.

Speaking is a vital part of leadership, and though we know intuitively that the power of speaking comes from authentic conviction, we increasingly evaluate speeches by their cosmetic appeal rather than their effectiveness at moving listeners to committed action. Most speakers are content with the superficial criteria because they seem easier to master.

Doing a technically good speech seems much more concrete and simpler than being authentic and powerful. Listeners are content with surface criteria because they are reluctant truly to engage with a leader who is advocating change. It is much easier to find fault or to praise technique than it is to entertain the possibility of personally acting to alter a familiar existence and move into a new future.

And finally, communication professionals find it difficult to coach or direct a speaker in a way that will bring conviction to the front, enabling expression from both the head and the heart. Such coaching is, by its nature, more demanding; it requires a deeper level of involvement than merely writing better language or making observations about physical habits.

Leading Out Loud is written as a tool for speakers and communication professionals to bridge the gap between symbolic and substantive speaking.

Anyone who is interested in being effective as an advocate of change can use this book. It is a guide to real self-expression, and its use can transform a speech — what to some is an uncomfortable experience — into a moving encounter for both the speaker and the audience. The concepts and practices form an excellent template for any communication. Accordingly, it will be helpful to anyone who wishes to influence others.

The work is the culmination of nearly three decades of experience as an executive and coach. In every part of my career, I have found wide responsiveness to these ideas. In fact, I have found a great need for a guide that would encourage and assist people in tapping their own source of conviction.

Overview of Contents
The book is organized into four parts, each with two or three chapters. Part One reviews the link between leadership and speaking, tracing the changing requirements of leadership, reinforcing the importance of communication, and making the case for authenticity as a requisite for effective advocacy.

The second chapter of this part provides ways to discover and articulate basic values that fuel your own personal convictions.

The remaining parts — corresponding to the beginning, middle and end of a speech — are written to both recommend the type of material to use and to suggest a way of relating that material to maximize the possibility of commitment from the audience.

Part Two discusses the opening third of a speech, looking at conventions and showing how conscious attention can establish credibility and begin to build trust.

Part three addresses the middle of a talk, pointing out the importance of context and suggesting the organization and content that will engage both the minds and hearts of the audience. The examples illustrate the most effective use of supportive data, and encourage you to employ personal experience, analogy, and metaphor to inspire authenticity and lift the speech beyond the mere delivery of information.

Part Four considers the end of the speech, reviewing the elements of an effective conclusion and the importance of an individual call to action. The second chapter in this part deals exclusively with the question-and-answer format, and suggests a method of considering questions that requires a speaker to remain authentic, conscious of both the stated and unstated agenda of a questioner.

Because I believe that the requirements of leadership speaking are changing, I have based my analyses on contemporary examples. Although some of the speakers quoted may not be familiar to you, all are quite successful in their fields, and I felt that it was important to provide representative samples from business as well as the public sector.

The requirements of leadership in the modern world are daunting. As people move toward a recognition of interconnectedness and as information becomes a widely available commodity, the realization of the relative nature of all things will continue to affect our world.

Leaders simply must reconnect with that which is unchanging, that which will confirm a basis of common reality. Authenticity can reopen the door to common ground and a sense of stability. Leading Out Loud has been written to contribute to that possibility.

I've suggested in these pages that the practice of real self-expression is becoming obsolete, and with its demise, trust in our leaders continues to erode.

We have become used to judging appearance rather than substance, yet as the world continues to change, our need for grounding in reality becomes greater and our frustration with imitations more profound.

To effectively speak as a leader in this new interdependent world will require a reversal of this trend, a defying of convention that has snared us in fantasy. Leading is about inspiring others to make change, and organizational leaders who foster joint commitment to meaningful endeavor will excel. Those who still depend on engendering passive compliance will falter. It is the energy of collective conviction that will fuel answers to the complex questions of global competition, national social malaise or international cooperation.

People make commitments to causes they value and to people they respect and trust. Rediscovering an authentic voice and maintaining a commitment to meaningful change are requisites for any leader who would respond to these needs. Such authenticity requires speaking from both the mind and the heart, directly to the minds and hearts of the audience. When listeners sense both competence and connection, they are willing to engage, consider their own commitment, and eventually act.

Ideas can be learned from others, but passion lives in our own experience. The first step of effective advocacy is to rediscover what is personally meaningful by reflecting on the actual shaping events of our lives. Increasing knowledge of internal truth must be a central theme in the leader's life, and will, as a discipline, tend to deepen all of her messages. Perhaps that deepening can slake the technological thirst to make shallow messages more broadly heard.

Technology can replace all of the parts of the body, but it cannot synthesize the whisper of the human spirit. By paying attention to our most important urgings, however, we can amplify that whisper to an audible call. Having thus reexperienced our own conviction, we can begin to bring it to others.

From the introduction until the last question is answered, the speech can become a vehicle to carry the audience to decision and commitment. By including both facts and feelings, by exposing both credentials and personal qualities, and by entering into the interaction with the audience honestly and completely, a speaker can offer real meaning in addition to the objective of shared accomplishment.

Because we are out of the practice of being real, I have offered a template or structure that will encourage the use of both objective and subjective evidence and will engage the speaker as well as the audience. But because authenticity depends on your intent, the only guarantee of success will come from your own subscription to these ideas and your dedication to rekindling that intent each time you speak.

I know from experience that consciousness doesn't come easy; it comes in hard-earned billionths of a second. But there are ways of training ourselves to expand those moments to full seconds, minutes, hours and sometimes days. When we communicate authentically, we add immensely to the possibility for others to do the same, and for real leadership to once again emerge in the human family and to defeat cynicism one encounter at a time.

I realize too, that our world has made authenticity more frightening, even to the most stalwart of souls. There may be a price to pay in terms of ridicule by those who can't match your courage, but that is the price of leadership. Authentic does not mean indecisive; vulnerable does not mean weak, and we need not abandon the mind to listen to the heart.

It takes work to remember that we are connected first as human beings, rather than only through our roles as professionals, capitalists, politicians, or students. In our lives of planning and executing, the reality of our humanness, and its inseparability from the parts we play, rarely surfaces unless we make time and develop a discipline to see it. This book is meant to encourage you to take that time, to provide a discipline for you to use, and to implore you to convey your discovery to others actively and authentically. The people you lead will be richer and more successful for it, and so will you.

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Copyright Leadership Communication 2007