The Exercise Every Business Leader Needs to Do
Most business writing I read is awful—boring, verbose—and ignores the audience in any way other than to demonstrate how smart the author thinks he or she is. Many business leaders use their leadership voices in the same way—without authenticity, stilted, dull. This forced voice dramatically hinders the influence a leader has over his or her followers.
There are exceptions, of course: those whose voice, personality and humanity jump out at you when you read. You feel like you know the person, have a sense of their style, personality and principles. If what they say resonates, you might even imagine yourself aligning or following, adapting or adopting ideas, methodologies or traits. The more you integrate yourself into your leadership, the greater your influence will be on your followers.
When I went to writing school, we learned about voice. What does this mean? How or why people may believe you, be moved by you, and especially moved to act, is important. What does your voice sound like? Not necessarily its auditory characteristics, but the way people perceive what you are saying with language and without. How do you know if you’ve found your authentic voice and whether it will influence anyone or impact business results?
I realized, after my consulting business had become successful, that I was doing what I’d always done—helping people find their voices. Voice is the manifestation of Genuineness. Those behaviors and actions and idiosyncrasies that make you you and allow you to lead from a place of confidence, assurance and passion. Voice is weaving your stories and experience and view of the world into how you lead and how others perceive you.
I still help people find their voices: I help my clients identify what they want, why they want it, how to say or ask for it, how to clearly articulate, how to listen and respond, how to make their own decisions—all of these things help someone stand firmly and speak with confidence. Where do you want to take your company or team? What do you want them to do, or stop doing? Your ability to articulate, to use language that rings true to you and that influences others, is using your voice well.
Steps to Refining Your Voice
Step 1.Get a journal, thought book or someplace to write and record your thinking.
I realize that paper is so old school and we’re on the verge of “kindleing” becoming a verb, but it makes a difference. I can type really fast, but I write differently long-hand. It’s kinetic in a different way. Just do it.
Step 2. Use the following questions to prompt your writing and thinking. Just write, without stopping, editing or censoring. If you struggle with writing or this whole idea sounds torturous, make it as easy as you can on yourself. I use a digital kitchen timer sometimes to help me stay focused for a period of time. If you get stuck, just write “I can’t think of anything . . . or “blah blah blah” until you get unstuck.
- WHAT DO YOU WANT? How do you envision your best version of yourself as a leader? Where would you work? With whom? In what industry or circumstances? Or perhaps, what do you want in a particular situation or scenario? In your current role?
- WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO? What is your personal mission or purpose? What gets you excited and completely enthusiastic? Where do you feel “whole-hearted?”
- WHAT EXPERIENCES OR INCIDENTS HAVE SHAPED YOU? What are some of the best lessons you’ve learned? How do you know? What would you do again, no matter what?
- HOW DO YOU MAKE THINGS BETTER? What is your ultimate value and contribution?
- WHAT NEXT? What’s your next step, decisive action or grand adventure?
Set your timer (or watch the clock) and write for at least 10 minutes on each topic without stopping. Don’t be surprised if you want to write more—indeed, these are things that are important to you and you may have a lot to say!
Step 3:Put your writing/thinking work away for at least a day. Give yourself some distance from the idea generating and brainstorming.
Step 4: Set aside an hour or 90 minutes to review and reflect. Ask yourself the following:
- What themes do I see that seem important?
- What is surprising or intriguing about what I wrote? Was anything missing that I thought would show up, but didn’t?
Step 5: Then, complete the following:
After my review, I have identified three intentions for my own leadership development:
This exercise helps you clarify about what’s important to you and for you. Reflecting and reviewing allows you to identify the next, most pertinent intentions to have for yourself. This is the road to congruence.
Libby Wagner,Libby Wagner & Associates, is one of only a handful of published poets regularly welcomed into the boardroom. Author of the new book The Influencing Option: The Art of Building a Profit Culture in Business (Global Professional Publishing), she has been labeled The Influencing Coach™ by her clients. Her expertise in leadership, strategy, management, and executive team development helps organizations create environments where clarity and increased trust lead to unrivaled results, shaping such Fortune 500 cultures as Boeing, Nike, Philips and Costco. For more info, visit www.influencingoptions.com