Finding Your Voice is an Essential Leadership Skill

"The King's Speech" won best picture last night.  Marvelous.  Seeing that movie got me thinking about how important it is for leaders to find their voice.  Turns out others have thought about this too.

"The King's Speech" portrays King as actor.  He learns how to overcome his stammer in order to deliver words written by others.

Indeed, ex-actor and later US President Ronald Reagan once said "I think it would be hard to be president without having been an actor." 

But it's really more than acting.  George VI knew he had to step up and lead the way in a war against evil.  Reagan was certainly setting his own direction.  When it comes to leadership, voice is much more than how you deliver the words.

Steven Covey, author and professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, suggests that voice is a combination of mind, heart, body and spirit.

"One word expresses the pathway to greatness: voice.  Those on this path find their voice and inspire others to find theirs.  The rest never do." 

Covey writes about this frequently.  His blog post on "The Four Steps to Finding Your Voice" provides a nice summary.

Peter Drucker wrote a strong article in the Harvard Business Review on "Managing Oneself" that gets at similar points in a different way.

Finally, there's a nice article by Toastmasters that ties the person, the content, and delivery together called, amazingly enough, "Finding Your Voice".

The Transition Management Voice

There tend to be three pivotal moments in our Onboarding Prep Workshops around 1) mapping stakeholders, 2) discovering the right leadership message, and 3) creating a day one entry plan.  What we refer to as leadership message and voice are inextricably linked if not the same thing.  What's been fascinating for me is that over the past eight years of doing this, not one single leader has been able to craft his or her message on his or her own.

This is because getting the message right is not an act of creation, it's an act of discovery.  The moment of discovery comes about when three things intersect:

  • The situational context the new leader faces and importance and urgency of the need for change
  • The culture and its readiness to change
  • The underlying character of the leader and his or her preferred behaviors, way of relating to others, attitudes, values, and environment

It is apparently too hard for a leader to look inside himself or herself, into the culture, and at the world around them all at the same time for them to be able to do this without help.  Yet, that leadership message or voice is inside of them the whole time.  When we discover their message together, leaders inevitably react with something like, "Of course.  I knew that."  They did know it.  They just didn't know they knew it.

Lionel Logue was able to help George VI overcome his stammer because he was able to get at the underlying issues, help him regain his confidence, and find the voice that was in him all the time.  It's not just King as actor.  It's King as person.  Just like it's never leader as actor.  It's leader as person.

Leverage the underlying truths

Impact comes at the intersection of context, culture and person.  Peter Gruber lays this out nicely in a different Harvard Business Review article on "The Four Truths of the Storyteller":

  • Truth to the teller
  • Truth to the audience
  • Truth to the moment
  • Truth to the mission

On September 3, 1939 these truths came into play.  Whether or not he wrote the words, the teller, George VI believed them with every fiber of his being.  The audience was desperate for leadership.  The moment was the beginning of war – again.  And the mission was to defeat pure evil. 

Implications for you

Hopefully none of you ever face a moment as dark as that one.  For the moments you do face and create, pay attention to finding your voice.

  • Look deep inside yourself to understand what's important to you
  • Look deep inside your audience to understand their most important fears and hopes
  • Understand the context of what's important at your particular moment in time
  • Drive everything to the mission and purpose – what's most important

When you get all those in line you will find the voice to inspire and enable others.

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