The Facts

The Facts Ma’am – Just The Facts

The Facts

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Clarity Matters. While clarity and brevity may have become a lost art, understanding the importance of clear, lucid, and straight-forward communication is nonetheless critical to your success as a leader. In today’s column I’ll reveal (clearly and briefly) the tricks of those who practice what I call “the black art of confusion” propagated by the ruse of ambiguity.

Tone Deaf Leadership

Tone Deaf Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

You’ll rarely come across successful leaders who have a tin ear. The best leaders are tuned in to the emotional needs of those whom they serve.  They engage, they listen, they empathize, and they acknowledge. They treat you as a colleague not a subordinate. They seek to understand not direct. They are the not tone deaf – they are relevant because they show they care. Are you guilty of having a failure to communicate? Here’s the thing – who cares if you possess excellent communication skills if you don’t use them properly. It simply does no good to listen if you don’t hear, or hear if you don’t understand. If your engagement isn’t advancing your vision, developing your team, or otherwise adding value to your stakeholders, then I would suggest your well honed skills are not as refined as you may think. In today’s post I want to address an often overlooked aspect of communications, which if not well understood, can render even the most articulate leaders ineffective – being tone deaf.

When it comes to communications, it’s not just a matter of if you send a message that determines whether it’s received, but rather how, when and why you send it that matters. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come across many a leader who just can’t seem to put the communications puzzle together – for whatever reason they don’t get it. They choose the wrong medium for their message, they appoint the wrong proxy to deliver a message they should have communicated in person, they communicate too infrequently, or my personal pet peeve, they bombard you by communicating far too often with disjointed messages that serve to confuse rather than to clarify – they are tone deaf.

In other posts I’ve pointed out that it is simply not possible to be a great leader without being a great communicator. This partially accounts for why we don’t encounter great leadership more often. The bottom line is that few things are as important when it comes to leadership as clear, crisp, on-point, and on-time communications. The big miss for most leaders is that they fail to understand that the purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage. It’s not about being efficient, it’s about making others more effective. It’s about focusing on understanding the needs of others.

Put simply, leaders need to figure out the communications rhythms, patterns and preferences of those they engage with. Leaders must learn to meet their constituents where they are in the manner most likely to add value to their world. The outcome of this should be obvious – improve the world of your stakeholders and your world gets better as well. Focus on the following three points and you’ll find that communications, morale and performance will all improve:

  • Engage: Good communications are bi-directional. Don’t speak at or to someone – speak with them. Don’t monologue – dialog. While one way communications might make you feel better initially, they only serve to frustrate those on the receiving end of your messaging. Keep in mind that when the negative impact of your poor communications are felt down the road, the damage will far outweigh the initial ego boost you received from giving your monologue.
  • Relevance: I’m always amazed at those who believe just because something matters to them, it must matter to others. Remember that just because you have something to say doesn’t necessarily mean other people want to hear it.  Furthermore, just increasing the volume or frequency of the message doesn’t make it any more relevant. When a message isn’t sticking, smart leaders don’t raise the volume of the rhetoric – they improve the quality of the message.
  • Pacing: It’s important to understand not everyone communicates at the same pace – frequency matters. Again, this isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the time to figure out. Some people simply require, and are deserving of, more frequent interactions. Likewise others thrive on less frequent engagement. Some do well receiving information in group settings, while others require one-on-one time. Moreover, everyone has their technology preferences that need to be figured into the equation as well. The important take away here is that it’s YOUR JOB to figure all of this out.
  • Timing: Like pacing, it’s also important for leaders to understand that timing matters. Just because you have something to say doesn’t mean someone is ready or willing to listen. One of the most important things a leader can do is to demonstrate respect for the time of others. Other than in the case of an emergency, interruption is never a good foundation for delivering a message. Whether you’re communicating to an audience of one or many, once said audience realizes that you understand their needs and respect their time your message will be much more openly received.
  • Medium: I don’t really care about my communications preferences, I care about how well my communication is received. I use virtually every communications medium available to me to make sure I meet the needs of my stakeholders. I text, IM, email, phone, tweet, facebook, blog, use video, and yes, my preference is to go old-school and get face-to-face when possible. I do these things not based upon what works for me, but what works for others. As a result of this I have learned to make these things work for me. Let me be as clear as I can – a leader who fails to meet the needs of the stakeholders will soon be replaced by a leader who does.

Bottom line…even though what I’ve espoused above might seem trivial to some leaders, if you truly engage with people in a meaningful way, and in the manner most effective for them, it will be well worth the investment.

Thoughts?  Please share them in the comments section below, but only if that works for you – if not, there are lots of other ways to reach me…

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…

Great Leaders Leverage Great Messaging

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

It's The Message Stupid...
Great leaders understand the power, influence, and leverage created by great messaging. Do you ever find yourself sitting back and marveling at those leaders who always seem to have the right thing to say? Contrast this with the feelings you have when you hear an awful sound-bite that makes a leader look either uninformed or unintelligent. The difference between the two aforementioned examples is that great leaders have mastered the art of finding the right message regardless of the medium, market, or constituency being addressed. In today’s post I’ll share some of the messaging secrets used by the best leaders…

So why is great messaging so important? In the business world, as a chief executive officer or entrepreneur, corporate messaging is the key to both your personal and professional positioning strategy. A leader’s message has a direct impact on their personal and corporate brand equity, how they manage a crisis, marketing initiatives, investor relations, press and public relations, team building and employee engagement, and virtually any other mission critical area of chief executive responsibility.

Sadly, the reality is messaging is so impactful that it will often times have a greater impact on your career than your performance. I have witnessed on numerous occasions CEOs with average, or even sub-par performance histories fare well because they possessed great messaging skills. Let me be clear that I’m not talking about form over substance here…They simply understood how to message their shortcomings and flaws, while engendering confidence around their planning for corrective measures to critical spheres of influence. By contrast, I have also watched CEOs with excellent performance histories not do so well because they did not possess the messaging skills necessary to keep stakeholders engaged. Simply put, the savvy and sophistication of your messaging will have a direct impact on the sustainability of your tenure as a chief executive.    

CEOs who become recognized as great leaders are prepared, articulate, consistent, and crisp in their messaging. They speak with authority, clarity, and certitude. Their messaging engenders confidence and serves to inspire and unify. Perhaps most importantly, a great leader’s message is never in conflict with their values. They will not compromise their core beliefs simply to manipulate the outcome of a specific situation. They rest in the comfort that doing and saying the right things will ultimately put them in a favorable position, and if not, they are comfortable in assuming any negative consequences that may come as a result of right thinking and decisioning.

When it comes to the construction of messaging, I have found that people will tend to fall into one of the four following groups.

  1. The Medium “is” the Message: People that fall into this camp believe that the medium will do the work for them…They believe in the reach and power of the medium to overcome any flaws in the message. This view of messaging constitutes a numbers based approach where the business logic states that if you reach enough people with the message some acceptable percentage of the people reached will embrace the message.
  2. The Market “is” the Message: This view of messaging values the target audience above all else. The message is so targeted and niche specific that it is sometimes almost unintelligible to those who fall outside of the intended target market. 
  3. The Message “is” the Message: This group believes that content is king…The emphasis here is that if the message is creative enough, or valuable enough, nothing else matters. This view of messaging is all about the teaser, the hook, the calls to action, the design, the concept, etc.
  4. The Messenger “is” the Message: This is the branded approach to messaging…If the person delivering the message has enough credibility and influence, nothing else matters. This iconic, ego-centric approach to messaging places a high premium on the spokesperson. 

My view of the aforementioned four theories is that their sum total value is greater than their independent stand alone value. Other than in matters of character and principle, I don’t tend to be an absolutist…Over the years, and especially in the genres of marketing, branding, positioning, and messaging, I believe a collaborative and cross-disciplined approach to be the key to success…While content can create credibility, credibility can also enhance the view of content. Furthermore, the best content or spokesperson in the world communicating to the wrong audience, with the wrong message, or through the wrong medium is likely to miss the mark. It takes a blending of approach to craft the right message and this will not happen when operating in a vacuum. Following are a few final thoughts for your consideration when crafting your message:

  1. It Must Be the Truth: The truth always comes out in the end…If your message won’t pass public scrutiny over time, then you have the wrong message.  
  2. Use a Multiple Medium Approach: Long gone are the days of one size fits all mediums…the best messaging campaigns take place across mediums creating multiple touch points to various constituencies and demographics. 
  3. Know Your Talking Points: Don’t allow the message to get lost in the medium. Remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. You must be consistent and convicted in your opinions and your positions. Be clear, concise and don’t compromise on key points.
  4. Know Your Audience: All messages should be tailored to the audience being addressed. This does not mean you should compromise your position, rather it means your message needs to relevant, timely, and of significance. While your talking points need to remain the same, they also need to address the concerns and areas of interest of those being communicated to.  
  5. Don’t Forget Your Critics: The tendency is to believe that your audience is comprised of friends and allies. You need to assume that every message given will find its way into the hands of your worst critics, and furthermore, that they will attempt to use your message against you.

So, what are your thoughts on the value of great messaging as it relates to leadership?

Buzzwords Aren’t All Bad

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Here’s an “out of the box” idea – buzzwords and business-speak can actually be valuable. The problem is that many people tend to immediately tune out anyone who chooses to use them. The vitriol is so intense that many have taken to trivializing anyone who utters these buzzwords as an incompetent, uneducated, and completely inferior corporate citizen. While you may find it hard to believe, I don’t have anything against buzzwords, techno-jargon, colloquialisms, acronyms and other forms of business-speak with the following caveat…that they are used in context, and by someone who possesses an underlying knowledge of what the phrase du jour actually means. I know that for many of you, what I’ve just espoused is nothing short of sacrilege, but I encourage you to read the text that follows as I think I can actually make the business case for becoming accepting of the use of buzzwords and business-speak…

While I doubt too many of my academic followers made it past the opening paragraph, for those who chose to endure, I want you to know that I’m not advocating for the degradation and demise of the English language with useless, watered-down business slang. However, I am very much in support of adding value, increasing clarity, and infusing brevity into our communications & dialogue. You see, buzzwords are birthed from the necessity of human beings to simplify the complex…they are in fact very useful in describing, informing, and educating. It’s as if it has become more acceptable to bash users of buzzwords than to actually listen to what’s being said – this in my opinion is not healthy, nor is it productive.

I have found that business-speak can be particularly beneficial in using just a few words to explain situations, scenarios, processes, trends, attitudes and any number of other ethereal and esoteric concepts that might have otherwise needed several sentences or paragraphs to describe. While I could cite many examples of what I just described, a particularly good one is the use of the phrase “social media.” A person could either take several minutes to explain the evolution of technologies, mediums, shift in content paradigms, engagement practices and market dynamics that came together to make the Internet a more valuable and efficient space, or they could just utilize “social media” as a descriptive aid to make the connection. The latter is much more efficient than the former.

It is the desire for this type of increased efficiency in our communications that creates the irony of needing to expand the total number of words contained in the dictionary in order to simplify our communications, and reduce the number of words we actually use. In fact, look no further than the current business innovations to seek validation for my assertions. Tools like email, instant messaging, texting, blogging and micro-blogging are all examples of shortening our communications to leverage speed and time to our advantage.

Where most people get off track with the use of buzzwords is not understanding their audience. Communicating is about connecting, and if the words you choose to use don’t connect then you might as well be spitting into the wind. All great communicators use language that resonates with those to whom they are speaking. What I want you to understand is that buzzwords are not the issue – the inappropriate use of them is. This is a subtle yet important distinction lost upon many.

Bottom line…While I can appreciate eloquent and detailed word pictures, they are not always needed. Not everyone who allows a buzzword to cross their lips is evil…they may just be pressed for time, and/or desire to be efficient in their communications. So I would ask that rather than dismiss someone solely on their use of buzzwords and business-speak, you first evaluate whether said use added value, was contextually appropriate, or whether the instance was born out of laziness or a lack of substance.

Agree or disagree, I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to share any buzzwords that happen to be pet-peeves…

Related Post: The Lost Art of Brevity