Many great corporate and political leaders will tell you that they watched and admired a parent, older sibling, or another family member or friend speak their mind and take charge of difficult situations. In other words, they saw first-hand the impact of leadership communication to calm a storm or controversy. Speaking out about issues and influencing others to act involves both the will and the skill. You can increase your capacity in both areas—will and skill—by observation, reflection, and practice.
How to Find Your Voice As a Leader: 5 Tips to Speak Up!
Begin With Empathy and Encouragement
Do you know a person or group experiencing challenging times? It’s a rare team or individual who’ll reject empathy and encouraging words. Let them know you understand their injustice, puzzlement, or loss—or ask them to tell you more about the situation and listen so you can ask even more specifics and listen longer. They’ll walk away from the interaction thinking you’re the most brilliant conversationalist they’ve ever met.
Identify Your Purpose and Passion
A jack-of-all-trades soon becomes a handyman, not a specialist. Likewise, a leader who speaks out on every issue soon becomes a loudmouth. To become a person of influence, decide whom you want to influence and why. Consider that the priority on the who and why may change, depending on the issue. On occasion, the why (your purpose) drives what group you need to influence. At other times, the who dictates the why.
Promote––Don’t Preach––Your Ideas
Keep in mind that confidence to speak up doesn’t equate to expertise or influence. As you communicate opinions and ideas, phrasing matters a great deal. Tone, word choice, and body language—all these communicate an attitude. As a leader, make sure your communication style doesn’t detract from the message. Many a good idea has been rejected because groups disliked the messenger—his or her arrogance, assumptions, or biases.
Practice and Play in Safe Zones
If you’re naturally an introvert, you probably won’t make your first forum a political rally, with hecklers scattered throughout the crowd. Try your wings by expressing any controversial opinions to friends you know will disagree. As you build confidence at holding your own with family and friends on confrontational topics, then voice your opinion to a colleague you don’t know well. These first two steps will increase your confidence to speak up in large groups on controversial issues.
Provide Your Rationale
Whether true or not, the story is told about evangelist Charles Spurgeon that he wrote on his sermon notes on one occasion: “Weak point. Yell louder.”
Nothing builds a team’s confidence in a leader like competence. When you speak up, know what you’re talking about! Gather information from valid sources and analyze it for validity before you open your mouth.
But don’t overlook a key step at this point: Pass along your reasoning! Leaders make a big mistake when they simply announce a decision and expect their team to support it. Sure, they may have spent long hours gathering and analyzing data. Their decision may be the perfect one. But people will follow more confidently and quickly if they hear your valid reasoning.
No matter your title, to increase your influence, speak up to move up!