Talk is Cheap? Well, Not for Leaders

A “friend” of mine recently made this comment in the middle of a discussion we were having with him. It got me thinking, “as Managers and Leaders, is talk really cheap? or is it priceless and premium?”

In the Management positions that people hold in the organisations, most can be considered as also requiring the said individuals to provide Leadership. I say this because I am fully aware that Management and Leadership are two different concepts. One of the key things thus that Leaders and by extension effective managers must hold very dear is “talk” aka words. Those we lead in addition to following what we do keenly, what we say to them and the emotional effect that our words have on them cannot be understated.

In my position as a manager, and indeed as a life long student of leadership, I have always held dear that which I tell both those in my team, and those outside of it. Primarily, I pay keen attention to what I say to my team members and as such, talk to me is not cheap, Talk is actually Premium.

In “Talk Is (Not!) Cheap”, Jim McCann illustrates how the art of conversation leadership—the process he developed to engage others and create forward momentum in the workplace—can be used to inspire, innovate, and win. This and other books on the importance of conversational leadership (Using words and constant talk and deep listening) serve to show us the importance of the gift of the gab to leaders.

Ask yourself these three questions: abbreviated as KTN

Is it KIND

Simply put “If you can’t be Kind, be quiet.” I had this printed out and put on my work station for almost the whole of 2017. If there was something that I recognised early in my management and by extension leadership journey is that being able to practice empathic listening and talking is one of the most critical things as I needed to learn.

Emotional Intelligence (EI)/Emotional Quotient (EQ) is a critical skill of Leaders. When we are emotionally intelligent, then one of the things we are able to practice is Empathy. Kindness, and Compassion work together with Empathy to enable leaders not only be able to understand their team, but also inspire and influence them.

” Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” –  Bob Kerrey  

We need to ensure that every word we utter and speak is kind and doesn’t serve to heart or put down those we relate with and in particular those we lead and work with in our teams. Being kind must not be confused with not being firm, in-fact when we are kind, we are able to put across our views in a more objective and by extension firm way as opposed to when we are not kind which only serves to show how inconsiderate and may be even uncouth we are in character.

Is it TRUE

Simply put “Speak the truth and it shall set you free.” Integrity is key if not the greatest virtue of any employee and indeed every leader. After evaluating if what we are about to say is kind, it is critical that we “fact check it” to ensure it is the Truth or that it is true. Remember, something could be true but how we say it may not be Kind, this is why as leaders, we need to ensure that how we say something is just as critical as to what we are saying – content of the message.

“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Managers (and Leaders) need to ensure that they constantly speak the truth. Truth in itself must not be confused with Fact – this is a debate we will have some other day :), for now, ensure that everything you speak is both kind and true. Be careful not to “stretch the truth” as that serves only to negate being kind and may actually move you towards the realm of lying.

Is It NECESSARY

In my MBA course, one of the cases we looked into (in Management Communications) dealt with how to deal with crisis as an organisation in the age of social media. In this case, we looked at how an organisational leader may need to communicate in a time of crisis choosing carefully what information is necessary to be shared with the public, under-pining how leaders need to carefully and without altering the truth pick the necessary content of their messages. Same applies to leaders and teams, it is important that what we talk about or say to those in our teams is necessary and serves to grow, inspire and motivate or make them better people.

After evaluating if what we want to say is Kind and True, it is important to weigh it on the scale of necessity. Not everything that is Kind and true should be said, and it must not be said to everyone, evaluate the impact and why or if it is necessary at that time or can be deferred.

Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid. ― Bernard Meltzer

Bringing it Together

Communication is transfer of meaning. Ensure you transfer the right and correct meaning as a leader. Evaluate what you want to say using KTN among other criteria before you say it. Your “talk” or words as a leader or someone in authority go a long way and have the power to not only impact the direction of the unit or organisation, but also impact forever or a very long time the lives of those you are leading.

Do not be like my friend and kill visions and dreams by just one comment :).

Behind The Resumé | The path I never took

The Path I never took

Growing up , I wanted to become a lawyer and all but my mother always confessed what a great lawyer I would be. So when people asked me as a young lad what I wanted to become, I would swiftly respond with “I want to become a Lawyer”. Fast forward to high school, I decided that this is the path I would take and when Form three came around, I quickly dropped Physics because why would a Lawyer want to study Physics? What value would Ohms law have to someone who will be defending Mike Sonko in court? None! So after term 1 of 2003 , I returned home with my shinny grades on humanities and the two sciences that I was taking – Chemistry and Biology. When I showed my mother the report form, she was in disbelief –

“You need to go back and enroll for Physics. I do not know which one you will drop, but what I know is, you will take physics”.

My mother, is a trained Engineer (she had this bias) and she has raised 5 boys so she is not exactly someone you can simply push over, I swiftly tried to defend myself but realizing that this was simply going to make my life miserable, I dropped that course of action.

When second term came up, I quickly went back and enrolled in the Physics class, I didn’t want to disappoint my mother. And since I didn’t drop physics for any particular reason other than I loved History and according to street knowledge you needed History to qualify for law, I took it up again. Two weeks into the second term, my father came to school and delivered “PHYSICS” by Arthur F. Abbott. Those who know this book know that this was the “Malkiat Singh ” (8-4-4 kids you know this one hahahaha) of Physics or simply put, the Bible of Ordinary Level physics. I went on to do fairly well in my high school exam and joined my alma mater Jomo Kenyatta University (also known as Juja boys to show the disproportionate number of boys/men in the university compared to ladies).

Behind the resumé

These are some of the stories we never get to tell on our CVs, they give the other version of who we are and how we ended up down the path that we are currently taking.

We all have happy and challenging stories. Some of us have gone through so much pain to get where they are while others have been lucky enough not to have so much painful experiences, no matter the journey we have each taken, these experiences and stories especially those that have impacted our professional lives most often do not find their way into our resume`. They most often do not look like they have shaped who we are or the path we eventually chose to take, but the fact is that they did shape it.

Hiring Managers/Interviewers: Appreciate and learn to ask for the story behind the resume`. Rethink of the answer to “tell us about yourself”, allow the candidates to bring out whom they truly are. Give them a chance to share with you the Path they never took and use it to asses various aspects of their personality and who they are.

Create an atmosphere where the candidates do not share revised/crammed answers, but are able to share with you freely what their dreams and ambitions are, their fears , their strengths and their weaknesses, their childhood dreams et.al. This will give you a better chance at not only on boarding the right team members, but also playing them in the right positions and knowing if they are a cultural fit to the organization.

Candidates/Interviewees: Share with the hiring manager the story behind the CV, share with them who you truly are and how your experiences have brought you to this point in time. Share the authentic self, the lessons you have learned, dare to be true to the self that you truly desire to be. Probe from the interviewers how the organization will be great for you – Socially, professionally and Culturally.

Finding that great fit can be the difference between bringing out the best in you and being mediocre in your performance. Remember, even great players need great coaches who can see whom they can become not who they currently are. As you are being interviewed , remember also to interview those in the panel and by extension the organization.

As Robert Frost noted in his famous Poem here.

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

What was your road? Let me know in the comments 🙂

What Do People Need to Perform at Optimal Levels?

Many of us do not perform at our optimal levels. Research shows that for employees to perform at high levels, a mixture of personal, interpersonal/relational, and organizational factors are critical. 

Role Clarity and Simplicity

  • They are clear about what they are expected to do.
  • They are not overwhelmed with rules about how the work has to be done or with unproductive meetings.

Supportive and Safe Work Environment 

  • They are willing to ask questions and feel safe doing so.
  • Their organization supports creative problem solving (e.g., implementing employee suggestions for improvements) and provides rewards and recognition for jobs well done.

Dedicated Leadership and Purpose 

  • Supervisors notice and acknowledge employee feelings, understand how their decisions will impact employees, and help them manage their emotions.
  • They see purpose and meaning in their work and are committed to their organization.

Bringing it Together 

The individual’s Mindset, support from Management , particularly line managers as well as organizational culture and Leadership need to all work in symphony. If any of these is out of place, then even the most talented , Motivated and committed teams and employees will fall short of their potential.

In an era of “We are an Agile organization “ and “We are a People Focused Organization “ buzz statements , it is even more critical that both employees and Leaders have the right mindset , supported by the right organizational culture in addition to metrics used to measure performance in order to ensure they are truly People focused and agile to deliver at their full potential. 

Source: Harvard Business Review. Read full article here.