5 Communication Tips for Leaders

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Words Matter...Regardless of your station in life, both what you say, and how you say it matters. It matters to an even greater degree for those in positions of leadership. Leaders simply don’t have the luxury of choosing their words in cavalier fashion. Whether in written or oral form your vocabulary matters. Few things make an impact, or lack thereof, like the words you allow to flow from your lips or from your keyboard. Even when you think they aren’t, people really are listening to what you say, reading what you write, and making important decisions about you based upon your choice of words.

Do not make the mistake of taking the importance of communication for granted. Put simply, the ability to effectively communicate with others is often the difference between success and failure. Don’t be fooled into thinking your title, education, influence, or charisma can take the place of sound communication skills. While the aforementioned characteristics certainly won’t hurt, they can be quickly eroded and/or undermined by making poor choices in the words you use.

I have always said that most problems in business could be eliminated through the use of direct, clear and concise communication. Being a great communicator is one of the “x” factors in business. Part of what makes a great communicator is not only possessing a great vocabulary, but knowing how and when to use it. Great orators have commanded the attention and respect of others since the dawn of time. They are rarely ignored or spoken over, but they are the individuals that tend to inspire, motivate, educate, influence and lead those around them.

While it would be easy to include discussions on focus, clarity, consistency, active listening, brevity, picking your battles and a number of the other traits possessed by good communicators, this piece is about vocabulary. Vocabulary is the one of the least costly investments into personal and professional growth that an individual can make. Simply eliminating the “you knows” and the “and ums” from your patter can make a big difference in how you are perceived by others. Ask someone whom you can trust to be honest to give you an evaluation of the depth, breadth and appropriateness of use of your vocabulary. Then be smart enough to listen to their feedback and diligently work to correct whatever shortcomings were identified.  You’ll be glad you did…

If you reflect back on your experience and think of those people whom you hold in high regard, more often than not, they will have been gifted communicators. Rarely will the people that come to mind ever be described as having a poor command of language or limited vocabularies. While I could delve into annunciation, presence, delivery, grammar, syntax and the like, I have found that it is the more subtle elements of communication that separate the truly great communicators from those that bumble and stumble through their interactions with others. When you can understand and  incorporate the following five elements into your interactions, you’ll have developed the communications savvy used by some of the world’s best communicators:

  1. Are your words consistent with your character? Will your choices stand the test of time, or will they come back to haunt you? It is important to understand that words are not easily forgotten – they leave a lasting and often indelible impression.
  2. Are your words consistent with your actions? Nothing hurts a leader’s reputation faster than becoming known for being disingenuous. Do your words build bridges or burn them? Do your words engender confidence or destroy trust? If you say one thing yet do another, it won’t be long before you lose the confidence of those around you.
  3. Are your words intended to help or hinder? Do they offer constructive criticism or do they belittle and intimidate? Are your words benefiting others or just yourself? Are your words adding value or just adding to the noise? The goal of every interaction should be leaving others with the feeling that the time spent with you was beneficial to them. If you cannot espouse something helpful, then why say or write anything at all?
  4. Do your words leave room for others? If your words overshadow or drown-out the words of others you’ve simply wasted your breath. Remember that most people don’t want to be lectured, and that it’s very difficult to learn anything when giving a monologue. However great things tend to happen when engaged in meaningful dialogue.
  5. Do your words start conversations or end them? The goal of any interaction is not to get in the last word, but rather to remain engaged in order to create the desired outcome. You don’t learn, inspire, motivate, influence, educate, or inform by shutting someone down.

Bottom line…The leadership lesson here is that whenever you have a message to communicate (either in written or verbal form) make sure that said message is well reasoned, authentic, specific, consistent, clear and accurate. Spending a little extra time on the front-end of the messaging curve will likely save you from considerable aggravation and brain damage on the back-end. If you have any additional thoughts or tips you’d like to share, please do so by commenting below – as always, I value your feedback and input…

Leadership & Age

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

When it come to leadership age doesn’t matter – competency does. History is full of examples of leaders who have succeeded and failed at every age. The intangibles of passion, character, commitment, discernment, and talent are of infinitely greater importance than someones date of birth. I don’t care about your generational category (Gen X, Gen Y, or Boomer), but I do care about your ability to contribute. In today’s post I’ll give you a different take on the topic of ageism.    

Whether your advantage is youth or experience isn’t really the issue – competency is. Regardless of your age, venturing beyond your area(s) of competency can be a very dangerous thing to do. It has been my experience that there are generally two types of people: those that don’t know what they don’t know, and those that do know what they don’t know. All other things being equal, the difference between the two groups boils down to experience and discernment. Those people who don’t know what they don’t know typically tend to be either younger professionals beginning their careers who have a lack of experience, or older professionals who have not gained wisdom and maturity as they have progressed along their career path.

The Early Stage Professional:
On the positive side of the equation young, inexperienced, and energetic professionals sometimes accomplish great things because they don’t have the experience to know what they are not supposed to be able to accomplish. As a result of their professional naivete, they sometimes appear to achieve the impossible. However more often than not, young professionals operating outside of experiential and/or educational boundaries are met with failure and frustration by having what appear to be great ideas eventually unwound by unforeseen factors that only were unforeseen to them due to their inexperience or lack of discernment.

The failures and setbacks of the early stage professional can be healthy learning experiences that lead to professional maturation so long as learning actually takes place, and mistakes of naivete don’t become patterns for future disruption. It is essential that young professionals gain an understanding of where their skill sets and competencies begin and end. Once the boundaries of knowledge are understood, then definitive steps can be taken to create a plan for personal and professional growth. The decision can be made to ignore weakness by design by playing to your strengths, or you can choose to improve weak areas by closing the gap between where you are and where you want or need to be.

The Tenured Professional:
Regrettably it takes more than time on the job to reach true professional maturity. I have personally witnessed people 20+ years into their careers that have reached executive level positions and they still don’t know what they don’t know. It is all too common for these types of people to operate in a vacuum by believing that their experience alone is a cure-all for any issue or problem.

How many times have we all observed an experienced person with subject matter expertise in one area, try to drive an initiative or an agenda in another area, only to fail miserably because they didn’t know what they didn’t know? Let’s look at this issue another way; how many times have you seen an older and more experienced person fail to solve a problem that a younger and less experienced person solved with seemingly little effort? While experience is a valuable commodity, in-and-of-itself, and to the exclusion of other traits and characteristics, the sole reliance on experience can be a barrier to professional growth and maturity.

That said, I have never been a believer in the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  In fact quite to the contrary…I believe anyone (yes I mean anyone) can change given one prerequisite; the desire to do so. However I feel just as strongly that change cannot be forced upon someone who does not recognize the need for change, or even worse, recognizes the need but has no desire for change.

Whether young or old, experienced or inexperienced, the best way to approach personal and professional development is to always stay in the learning zone. When you think you have all the answers is precisely the point in time when you are headed straight for the proverbial brick wall. Always seek out people who know more than you do and actively learn from them. Find someone you trust who can dispassionately identify development opportunities and help you chart a path to progress.

Rather than being threatened by, or dismissive of someone of a different generation, why not learn from them instead. We all have much to offer and much to learn, Recognition of this will simply make your life more enjoyable and more productive as well.  Most things in life happen as a result of choices we make…It is clearly within your grasp to make the choice to gain an understanding of what it is that you don’t know, and determine what you want to do with that information. It’s your choice; choose wisely.

Thoughts?

Entrepreneur, CEO or Both?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Entrepreneur, CEO or Both?Entrepreneur, CEO or Both? Which hat, or hats do you wear? CEO…that title sounds good doesn’t it? Okay, so you founded the company, but does that mean you should also be the chief executive? Did you bestow the title upon yourself simply because you had the authority to do so, or are you the right person for the job? Perhaps you were the right person for the job initially, but has the company outgrown your management ability? As the founder, can you, or should you, attempt to grow with the company? What does a CEO really do anyway? In today’s post I’ll assess what it takes to be an effective CEO and you can decide for yourself if you have what it takes to get the job done.

Sure, it’s your business, your idea, your net worth at risk and certainly nobody else will work as hard as you will, but is this really the right way to evaluate who should be the chief executive? In most cases the answer is no it’s not…however this is often times exactly how the decision is made. While entrepreneurs are clearly talented innovators and visionaries, most first time entrepreneurs don’t have prior experience as a CEO. 

Over the years I have come across many self-appointed CEOs that struggle with leadership, team-building, creating a healthy culture, reading a balance sheet, understanding capital formation or financial engineering, have poor communication skills, have never built a sales force, authored a business plan, or lack any number of other requisite operational abilities. I’m not suggesting that all entrepreneurs are incapable of being chief executives, but I am suggesting that you stop and make an honest assessment of whether you are doing the job because you’re the most qualified, or just because you don’t know what you don’t know…

Before I start breaking this down, let me disclaim that a post of this nature works off generalizations and stereotypes, and that there are clearly exceptions to every rule. I have known many entrepreneurs that are exceptional CEO’s, but I have known many more that don’t measure-up and shouldn’t be fulfilling the role of CEO. I’m not making any judgments or pointing any fingers, but readers of this post will know which camp they fall into.

It is the nature of the beast that most entrepreneurs are a disruptive force within a company. A VC friend of mine refers to most entrepreneurs as practicing “seagull management” in that they fly in, flap their wings, crap all over everything and fly back out again…Many entrepreneurs desire to have input on everything, yet don’t want anything to do with the details.  They often don’t possess the skill sets to add value to the initiatives they want to control. This type of behavior is proof certain that the entrepreneur is not being effective at leading, team building, delegation, leveraging process and a variety of other highest and best use activities for CEOs. 

Let’s begin by determining what it is that a CEO does…First and foremost it is the CEO’s job to provide consistent leadership by insuring that the corporate values are reflected in a clearly articulated vision which in turn translates into a well defined strategy. Priority number two is team building and talent management. One of the main keys to generating organizational leverage is for chief executives to know when, where and why to deploy (or redeploy) talent and resources. It has been my experience that it is much easier to recruit talent or acquire resources than it is to properly deploy talent and allocate resources.

Jack Welch the former head of GE built a reputation as one of the great chief executives of this era. When asked how he transformed a lack-luster, institutional, global corporate giant into a dynamic culture focused on innovation and growth, Welch responded by saying; “My job is to put the best people on the biggest opportunities and the best allocation of dollars in the right places. That’s about it. Transfer ideas and allocate resources and get out of the way.” Welch clearly not only understood the concept of organizational leverage through proper deployment of talent and resources He mastered it.

I’ve heard it said that the role of a leader is to create and manage good followers. While there is an element of truth in that statement if this is what you aspire to as a leader it constitutes a complete under-utilization of leadership responsibility. I believe great leaders will mentor and coach subordinates for the purpose of identifying and developing other great leaders.

To achieve maximum success I believe it is incumbent upon an entrepreneur to take an honest inventory of his/her skill sets and competencies, and contrast them with the needs of the enterprise as it relates to what is required to efficiently and effectively lead the company forward. If your skill sets are best suited for business development, product development, branding, finance or other areas you may want to consider playing to your strengths by taking a senior position in the area of your subject matter expertise and hiring the best chief executive you can find to lead the company.

Surrendering the chief executive role doesn’t mean that you must give-up financial control or lose the ability to have input on decisioning, but it does mean that you’ll have to trust in, collaborate with, and delegate to someone who has the necessary domain expertise to get the job done.

At the end of the day, the choice of who occupies the chief executive role is yours to make…choose wisely. As always, I’m  interested in your thoughts…please share your insights and experiences in the comments section below.

Brand Exposure

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Do you understand the difference between presence, visibility and overexposure? Have you figured out how to apply the laws of scarcity to brand management? If not, then this post is for you. While a brand without exposure is not much of a brand, I consistently find that brand exposure is an aspect of brand management that is all too often overlooked as a success metric. Whether you’re assessing the strength of a personal or corporate brand, finding the appropriate level of brand exposure is key to sustainable growth in brand equity. 

As I stated above, having an underexposed brand, or what I like to refer to as having a brand in stealth mode, means that you really don’t have much of a brand. Conversely, having a brand that is mismanaged through overexposure can cause a brand to go into decline by diluting hard earned brand equity. The reality is that premium brands are viewed as such because they jealously manage their brand exposure. They pay attention to the both the frequency and reach of their exposure. While they are careful to insure that their brands are visible to the right constituencies, they simply won’t allow overexposure. When a brand’s pedigree has an element of mystique, scarcity, intrigue, or sophistication, said brand will be in high demand. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating brand snobbery, just astute brand management based on time tested success principles.   

Intelligent brands create at least some level of focused planning surrounding the issue of access to prevent overexposure. Once a brand is overexposed it becomes commoditized, diluted, and ultimately. will go into decline. While you might not detect brand taints associated with overexposure in the short-term, this principle holds true across most genres over time. Think about any overexposed brand that comes to mind and you’ll see that it quickly begins to lose its luster. Once a brand’s appeal begins to erode, it will require significant time and expense to recover. It is simply a more intelligent approach to consistently manage brand exposure than it is to let your brand run wild and then attempt to triage overexposure.  

Let me offer just a few examples to help connect the dots: Recording artists that release too many CDs over too short of a time period hurt their own appeal. The same holds true with authors that release books with too high a frequency, or actors that churn out too many movies. You may also notice that politicians who confuse their real job with that of a media celebrity will lose the respect of their constituency and taint their effectiveness.

Please keep in mind that the personal brands of business people are not immune to the phenomenon mentioned above. The goal of a sound brand exposure strategy should be to increase your demand, which in turn allows you to pick and choose your opportunities, which in turn further increases your demand…the goal is not to seek every opportunity in the marketplace, but to have the right opportunities seeking you. 

I’ll close today’s post with a prime example of personal branding overexposure that while a pet-peeve of mine, will certainly draw the ire of many. I’m a huge believer in the use social media and social networking to further brand exposure. That said, I have little use for social networking junkies who collect friends/followers/contacts just for the sake of watching the numbers go up, while adding little or no value to their network. I would suggest that if your brand is based solely upon the quantity of contacts in your LinkedIn network, or the number of followers you’ve amassed on Twitter, and not the qualitative relevancy of said contacts, then you are more likely stroking your ego than you are acting as an astute personal brand manager. If no real interaction, no real value add, or no real engagement takes place, then while you migh have a lot of contacts you likely have very few relationships – there is a difference. 

Thoughts?

Looking For Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Really? Identifying leaders? Have we really degenerated to this point? News Flash – If you have to look for leadership it doesn’t exist…Today’s post is not going to sit well with many in the leadership profession, but then many of my posts seem to have that effect. My premise is a simple one – Leaders need no identification as they instinctively and inevitably make their presence very well known. Place a leader into any environment and their impact will be immediately recognized. There is truth in the old axiom that says “the cream rises to the top.”

Here’s the thing…you really don’t need to work too hard to identify leaders within an organization – they are the ones taking on the greatest levels of responsibility and delivering on their commitments. They are the ones innovating and breaking-down barriers. They are the ones who have earned the trust, loyalty and respect of their co-workers. They are the ones people turn to when things get tough. They are  the ones that inspire, motivate and challenge others. They are the ones that put the needs of others, as well as the needs of the organization, ahead of their own. They are the ones who provide alignment and direction. They are the ones who are engaged. They get the job done, they stand out from the crowd, they don’t need identifying – you know who they are.

I’ve seen many an executive or consultant attempt to identify leaders with interviews, tests, evaluations, etc., only to fail in miserable fashion. I’ve never been a fan of what I refer to as “make-work” disciplines. By that I mean practice areas that serve no real purpose other than to generate a revenue stream for a coach or consultant, or justify headcount within a department. In my opinion the practice of leadership identification is simply based upon flawed business logic, and it is make-work in the purest form. I’m a huge advocate of refining initiatives that allow any level of talent to be developed to the maximum potential. Leaders and non-leaders alike need career-pathing, training and development. I’m just not a believer in attempting to label someone as a leader, and develop them as such when they are clearly not.

Let me be very clear – there is not always a direct correlation between testing well and leading well. Don’t give people tests – give them responsibility. There is really only one sure fire method for identifying leaders – Do they have the character and integrity to do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time. The answer to this test will be born out through their actions. Give them responsibility and see what they do with it. You’ll find out quickly enough if you have a leader.

Organizations short on leadership talent find themselves in such a position for a reason…current leadership failed to lead. If you find yourself within an organization that has a leadership vacuum you won’t fill it by drafting someone into a leadership role and hoping that they perform. Beyond the character test, the first prerequisite for leadership is the willingness to lead. As much as most companies don’t want to admit this, it is highly unlikely that you have anyone in your organization that has great leadership attitude and aptitude that hasn’t already been identified.

Bottom line…the way you identify leaders is not through psychological profiling or some miraculous transformative process. You identify leaders by their actions and their performance. Real leaders will find you…you don’t need to go looking for them.

Dare I ask for comments? Why not, I’m a glutton for punishment…

10 Communication Tips for Leaders

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Unwritten Rules of CommunicationWant to lead more effectively? Communicate more effectively. Communication skills are so essential  for leaders that it is simply impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. While developing an understanding of great communication skills is easier than one might think, being able to appropriately draw upon said skills when the chips are down is not always as easy as one might hope for. See if this thought resonates with you – it’s been my experience that most leaders overestimate their communications ability. Thinking you’re a great communicator isn’t the same thing as being one. In today’s post I’ll share a few of the communication traits, that if used consistently, will help you achieve better results in the workplace.

Oddly enough, the key to becoming a skillful communicator is rarely found in what has been taught in the world of academia. From our earliest days in the classroom we are trained to focus on annunciation, vocabulary, presence, delivery, grammar, syntax and the like. In other words, we are taught to focus on ourselves. While I don’t mean to belittle these things as they’re important to learn, it’s the more subtle elements of communication that are rarely taught in the classroom (the elements that focus on others) that leaders desperately need to learn. It is the ability to develop a keen external awareness that separates the truly great communicators from those who muddle through their interactions with others.

I don’t believe it comes as any great surprise that most leaders spend the overwhelming majority of their time each day in some type of an interpersonal situation. I also don’t believe it comes as a great shock to find that a large number of organizational problems occur as a result of poor communications. It is precisely this paradox that underscores the need for leaders to focus on becoming great communicators.

Skills acquired and/or knowledge gained are only valuable to the extent that they can be practically applied when called for. Leaders have a much broader span of communications and therefore must be able to communicate effectively whether dealing with interpersonal, intergroup, intragroup, organizational, or external communications. It has been my experience that the number one thing that great communicators have in common is that they possess a heightened sense of situational and contextual awareness. The best communicators are great listeners and observers. Great communicators can read a person/group by sensing the moods, dynamics, attitudes, values and concerns of those being communicated with. Not only do they read the environment well, but they possess the uncanny ability to adapt their messaging to said environment without missing a beat. The message is not about the messenger; it has nothing to do with messenger; it is however 100% about meeting the needs and the expectations of those you’re communicating with.

So how do you know when your skills have matured to the point that you’ve become an excellent communicator? The answer is that you’ll have reached the point where your interactions with others consistently use the following 10 principles:

  1. Speak not with a forked tongue: In most cases people just won’t open up those they don’t trust. When people have a sense that a leader is worthy of their trust they will invest time and take risks in ways they would not if their leader had a reputation built upon poor character or lack of integrity. While you can attempt to demand trust it rarely works. Trust is best created by earning it with right acting, thinking, and decisioning. Keep in mind that people will forgive many things where trust exists, but will rarely forgive anything where trust is absent.  
  2. Get personal: There is great truth in the axiom that states: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Classic business theory tells leaders to stay at arms length. I say stay at arms length if you want to remain in the dark receiving only highly sanitized versions of the truth. If you don’t develop meaningful relationships with people you’ll never know what’s really on their mind until it’s too late to do anything about it.  
  3. Get specific: Specificity is better than Ambiguity 11 times out of 10: Learn to communicate with clarity. Simple and concise is always better than complicated and confusing. Time has never been a more precious commodity than it is in today’s marketplace. It is critical that you know how to cut to the chase and hit the high points, and that you expect the same from others. Without understanding the value of brevity and clarity it is unlikely that you’ll ever be afforded the opportunity to get to the granular level as people will tune you out long before you ever get there. Your goal is to weed out the superfluous and to make your words count.
  4. Focus on the leave-behinds not the take-aways: The best communicators develop the ability to get the information they need while leaving the other party feeling as if they got more out of the conversation than you did. While you can accomplish this by being disingenuous, that is not the goal. When you truly focus more on what you leave behind than what you take away you will have accomplished the goal. Even though this may seem counter-intuitive, by intensely focusing on the other party’s wants, needs & desires, you’ll learn far more than you ever would by focusing on your agenda.
  5. Have an open mind: I’ve often said that the rigidity of a closed mind is the single greatest limiting factor of new opportunities. In my opinion a leader takes their game to a whole new level the minute they willingly seek out those who hold dissenting opinions and opposing positions with the goal not of convincing them to change their minds, but with the goal of understanding what’s on their mind. I’m always amazed at how many people are truly fearful of opposing views as opposed to being genuinely curious and interested. Open dialogs with those that confront you, challenge you, stretch you, and develop you. Remember that it’s not the opinion that matters, but rather the willingness to discuss it with an open mind.
  6. Shut-up and listen: Simply broadcasting your message ad-nauseum will not have the same result as engaging in meaningful conversation, but this assumes that you understand that the greatest form of discourse takes place within a conversation, and not a lecture or a monologue. When you reach that point in your life where the light bulb goes off, and you begin to understand that knowledge is not gained by flapping your lips, but by removing your ear wax, you have taken the first step to becoming a skilled communicator.
  7. Replace ego with empathy: I have long advised leaders not to let their ego write checks that their talent can’t cash. When cador is communicated with empathy & caring and not the prideful arrogance of an over inflated ego good things begin to happen. Empathetic communicators display a level of authenticity and transparency that is not present with those who choose to communicate behind the carefully crafted facade propped-up by a very fragile ego. Understanding the this communication principle is what helps turn anger into respect and doubt into trust.
  8. Read between the lines: Take a moment and reflect back on any great leader that comes to mind…you’ll find that they are very adept at reading between the lines. They have the uncanny ability to understand what is not said, witnessed, or heard. Being a leader should not be viewed as a license to increase the volume of rhetoric. Rather astute leaders know that there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by filibustering. In this age of instant communication, everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind that they fail to realize everything to be gained from the minds of others. Keep your eyes & ears open and your mouth shut and you’ll be amazed at how your level or organizational awareness is raised.
  9. When you speak, know what you’re talking about: Develop a technical command over your subject matter. If you don’t possess subject matter expertise, few people will give you the time of day. Most successful people have little interest in listening to those individuals that cannot add value to a situation or topic, but force themselves into a conversation just to hear themselves speak. The fake it until you make it days have long sense passed, and for most people I know fast and slick equals not credible. You’ve all heard the saying “it’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters,” and while there is surely an element of truth in that statement, I’m here to tell you that it matters very much what you say. Good communicators address both the “what” and “how” aspects of messaging so that they don’t fall prey to becoming the smooth talker who leaves people with the impression of form over substance.
  10. Speak to groups as individuals: Leaders don’t always have the luxury of speaking to individuals in an intimate setting. Great communicators can tailor a message such that they can speak to 10 people in a conference room or 1,000 people in an auditorium and have them feel as if you were speaking directly to each one of them as an individual. Knowing how to work a room and establish credibility, trust and rapport are keys to successful interactions.
  • Bonus – Always have a Plan B: Another component of communications strategy that is rarely discussed is how to prevent a message from going bad, and what to do when does. It’s called being prepared and developing a contingency plan. Again, you must keep in mind that for successful interactions to occur, your objective must be in alignment with those you are communicating with. If your expertise, empathy, clarity, etc. don’t have the desired effect, which by the way is very rare, you need to be able to make an impact by changing things up on the fly. Use great questions, humor, stories, analogies, relevant data, and where needed, bold statements to help connect and engender the confidence and trust that it takes for people to want to engage. While it is sometimes necessary to “Shock and Awe” this tactic should be reserved as a last resort.

One final thought – don’t assume that someone is ready to have a particular conversation with you just because you’re ready to have the conversation with them. Spending time paving the way for a productive conversation is far better than coming off as the proverbial bull in a china shop. Furthermore, you cannot assume that anyone knows where you’re coming from if you don’t tell them. I never ceased to be amazed at how many people assume that everyone knows what they want to occur without ever finding it necessary to communicate their objective. If you fail to justify your message with knowledge, business logic, reason etc., you will find that said message will likely fall on deaf ears needing reinforcement or clarification afterwards.

Bottom line…The leadership lesson here is that whenever you have a message to communicate (either directly, or indirectly through a third party) make sure that said message is true & correct, well reasoned, and substantiated by solid business logic that is specific, consistent, clear and accurate. Spending a little extra time on the front-end of the messaging curve will likely save you from considerable aggravation and brain damage on the back-end. Most importantly of all, keep in mind that communication is not about you, your opinions, your positions or your circumstances. It’s about helping others by meeting their needs, understanding their concerns, and adding value to their world. Do these things and you’ll drastically reduce the number of communications problems you’ll experience moving forward.

Feel free to add to the list or to share any additional thoughts in the comments below…

The Fallacy of No

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

There seems to be a popular movement afoot that believes the word “no” is the super antidote to the far inferior word “yes.” There are many well known axioms espousing the benefits of learning to use the word no with greater frequency. In fact, there are some very bright people who believe you cannot become a good leader without developing a mastery for using the word no as evidenced by the following quote from Tony Blair: “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes.” I couldn’t disagree more…In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on what I refer to as the fallacy of no.

While inherently obvious, it should not go unnoticed that the use of the word no is 100% negative. The word no ends discussions, stifles creativity, kills innovation, impedes learning, and gates initiative. Put simply, the word no advances nothing, grows nothing, builds nothing and incentivizes nothing. No is not all it’s cracked-up to be…Still don’t believe me? Let me ask you a few simple questions: How do you feel when you’re told no? Does it leave you feeling inspired or dismissed? Does it make you feel like your contributions and opinions are valued? Smart leaders create and foster a culture of “yes” rather than use the word no as a tactical weapon just because they can.

Unless accompanied by a tremendous amount of reasoned dialog, the use of “no” is rarely informative much less instructive. Most leaders simply don’t take the time to have the needed conversation surrounding a no. Moreover, when those conversations do occur they tend to be focused on admonishment rather than teachable moments. Teaching someone how to get to a yes is one of the most valuable things a leader can do. It was Sir Richard Branson who said: “I have enjoyed life a lot more by saying yes than by saying no.”  Saying yes is both valuable and fun, so why not learn how to help people to a yes?  

Let me put it to you another way…If as a leader you find yourself always saying no, what does that tell you about your leadership ability? It means your vision is not understood, your team is not aligned and your talent is not performing up to par. It means you’re not teaching, mentoring, communicating, or leading.  The perception that strong leaders say no and weak leaders say yes is simply flawed thinking. A constant stream of “no’s” is not a positive sign, it’s a warning sign that needs to be heeded.

I have found that the most common reasons people tend to cite in support of using no are as follows:

  • Excuse: It helps to keep them from wasting time – Reality: For a leader to believe their time is somehow more important than other’s time is usually not correct, and is often the height of arrogance.
  • Excuse: It somehow manages risk – Reality: A quick no often keeps opportunities hidden, creates information deficits, and causes blind spots – all of which actually increase the potential for risk.
  • Excuse: It builds character – Reality: While it’s true adversity builds character, so does empathy and understanding. Life brings about enough adversity on its own  – leaders who manufacture it as a teaching method have missed the point.  
  • Excuse: It helps them focus by not biting off more than they can chew – Reality: if your only way to prioritize is by saying no, then you are missing out on a lot of what life has to offer. Rather than prioritize by exclusion, use systems, processes, etc., to prioritize by inclusion.  

While saying no might be more convenient, the aforementioned agendas are better accomplished with clear communication, effective collaboration, and prudent resourcing – not by saying no. Great leaders help people get to a yes – in other words, they teach them how not to receive a no. Rather than just kill something with a quick no, a good leader uses every adverse scenario as a development opportunity to help people advance their critical thinking and decisioning skills. 

While I understand that there are times when using no may be your only option, those times should be the exception and not the rule. It’s also important to note that the use of “yes” and “no” are neither universally right or wrong, but there is much greater upside to enabling a yes. Bottom line…Yes is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of intelligent leadership. Next time you’re tempted to say no, do yourself a big favor and find a way to work around the obstacle and toward a yes.

What say you?