The Fatal Assumptions About Leadership Communication

The Fatal Assumptions About Leadership Communication

The Fatal Assumptions About Leadership Communication

“The leader speaks. Followers applaud on command. There is an illusion that communication took place, but it didn’t.”

– from The Leader’s Voice by Boyd Clarke & Ron Crossland

If you have done a workshop with me there is a good chance you have heard me speak about this book. It was referred to me by a mentor about 10 years ago and it turned out to be a book that really turned the lights on for me. So much so that I reached out to Ron Crossland personally (his co-author had sadly passed away by then) and the exchange ended up with permission from him to use the content in the book in my own training programs.

One of the concepts I have adapted originated with what Clarke & Crossland call the ‘four fatal assumptions’ of leadership communication. At the time they wrote the book, the authors were the CEO and Vice-Chair of the Tom Peters Company and between them had worked with thousands of clients in the fields of leadership, communication, and organisational change. Throughout the course of their work, they identified the communication-killing assumptions.

I am going to briefly touch on two of them…

Some leaders assume that their constituents UNDERSTAND what was communicated

Some of the reasons that understanding is often not achieved can include:

  • Assuming that a message will not alter as it filters down through the organisation
  • Information overload
  • Lots of hard data with no explanation of what it actually means
  • ‘Sugar coated’ language that doesn’t clearly articulate the facts
  • Not providing context to a message

This list could go on endlessly, but I hope you understand. Please get in touch if you don’t – I don’t want to be guilty of this assumption myself.

It’s easy to assume we have been understood, when often we haven’t. However, we are certainly surprised when we don’t get the response we were looking for.

Some leaders assume that their constituents AGREE with what was communicated

Imagine working for a leader who just assumed that you agreed with everything. You are never consulted and you don’t feel safe to put alternative ideas forward.

Clarke & Crossland don’t say which is the most lethal of the four fatal assumptions but this one would be my pick. This is the one that most quickly leads to people feeling unvalued, unappreciated and disillusioned before they become disengaged.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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It’s easy when you want to, but so hard when you have to

It’s easy when you want to, but so hard when you have to

It’s easy when you want to, but so hard when you have to

Any purist who has read my writing will tell you that I’m not the most grammatically correct writer in the world. But (ha ha) I hope that my writing is easy to read and reasonably engaging, which is what I aim for.

While I am better known for speaking, writing is something I also enjoy immensely. That wasn’t the case for a while though. You see, writing copy for websites used to take up a significant slice of my week and I grew to loathe it. Writing is one of those things for me which so easy when you WANT to, but so hard when you HAVE to. When I had to because it was my job, and I had zero interest in the client’s business to boot, writing became a dreaded chore.

Right before COVID hit the world, writing copy was one of the services I dropped from my business with the exception of a couple of clients who are doing work I genuinely buy into. In retrospect, not having this source of income has hurt a bit over the last 18months, however, I have come to love writing again. For example, I enjoy doing this newsletter and when I miss a week now and then it’s not because I can’t think of anything to write about or because it’s a chore, it’s because I genuinely didn’t have time or wasn’t feeling well.

Another quick example, last week I had to do a uni assessment which involved writing two essays. The catch was the topics were revealed at 4pm on Wednesday and we had 24 hours to write and submit the two essays before the submission portal closed. I thought this was a task that would require me to get by on about 3 hours sleep. However by 8pm on Wednesday I found myself well ahead of schedule, got a good 7 hours sleep and submitted the assessment with an hour to spare! It definitely helped that I was absorbed by the two essay topics.

Okay, so what’s the life lesson in all this? Well, I guess it’s actually not really a given task that we either enjoy or don’t enjoy. It’s the reason we are doing it that determines our enjoyment.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

One of my favourite books about public speaking is called “The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking”. It is a 1962 rewrite by Dorothy Carnegie of the textbook her late husband Dale Carnegie wrote for his courses called Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business.

So in 2021, the ideas originally put forward by Dale Carnegie would be approaching 100 years old. However, like his other moderately well-known book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, it’s amazing how well the principles have stood the test of time. Today I wanted to share four pieces of wisdom from the book with a few notes of my own.

You are not unique in your fear of speaking in public

Back then, Dale Carnegie estimated that around 80 – 90% of people suffer from stage fright. Most relevant modern research focuses on anxiety and public speaking as a source or trigger. Most studies end up at around 70-80% of people having some level of anxiety (ranging from mild to severe) in relation to public speaking.

A certain amount of stage fright is useful

Dale Carnegie pointed out that your heart beating faster and breathing becoming faster were natural responses to preparing for a challenge. He added that the trick is to keep these physiological responses within limits and they will make you capable of thinking faster and speaking with greater intensity.

These days we know a lot more about the science of what is actually happening in your body, but in a nutshell, he was spot on about controlling the severity of the response and directing the energy positively.

Even many professional speakers never lose all stage fright

Dale Carnegie offers one of my favourite lines by saying “Speakers who say they are as ‘cool as a cucumber’ are usually as thick-skinned as a cucumber and about as inspiring.

Many a time I’ve had people speak to me about my classes and say something like “I’m really lucky I don’t have any trouble with public speaking.” Then I hear them speak and they are certainly right about one thing…confidence is not their problem.

The chief cause of your fear is simply that you are unaccustomed to speaking in public

Dale Carnegie points out that for the beginner, learning to speak in public is a complex series of strange situations. He says the best way to make public speaking a joy is to get a record of successful speaking experiences behind you.

Which brings me back full circle to last week’s message. There is no substitute for stage time.

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There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

“I think it’s a fallacy that the harder you practice the better you get. You only get better by playing.” – Buddy Rich

Okay, I don’t think practising is a bad thing. I don’t think that Buddy Rich meant that either. I think what the great jazz drummer meant was that there are some things you can only master on a real stage. Similarly, sports coaches talk about the fact that there is no substitute for game time.

When it comes to public speaking, I certainly learnt that being in an environment where all you do is practise, just makes you great at practising. When it came to the real deal, it was frustrating, but at the same time enlightening, to discover that I was still nervous and anxious after so much time invested.

It was only once I started getting regular experience in front of real audiences, that I gradually became more confident. I learned to manage my physical and mental responses and become more aware of how I was interacting with the audience.

That is essentially how my training is intended to work these days. I give you some tools and strategies and a chance to try them in a safe environment. But then you need to go out and apply them in the real world – evaluate how it went – tweak and re-apply. Keep improving.

Don’t use practising as an excuse to procrastinate or as a crutch to convince yourself you are doing something, when deep down you know you’ve reached the point where you need to play to a real crowd to get better.

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Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

“Reciting lines is hard; making stuff up is much, much easier.” – Zach Galifianakis

I’m not sure about the context that Zach Galifianakis said this in but let me be clear, when I chose this quote I wasn’t thinking that you should literally make stuff up. However, I am a big fan of not necessarily knowing exactly what words are going to come out when you get up to speak.

Speaking is not acting. If you are going to script everything in order to get on stage or in front of a camera, you also need to learn to emote while recalling and reciting lines, and do it in a way that is believable i.e. acting. Personally, I am no Leo DiCaprio so trying to do that is fraught with danger – likewise for the 99.9% of people who aren’t skilled actors.

Reading is not speaking. When you read from a teleprompter app on your device it comes across exactly like you are reading from a teleprompter app on your device. Likewise, when you read from notes in front of an in-person audience, it may get you through the experience without messing anything up, but it is a huge barrier to connecting with those people.

What to do instead

For a start, if you’re not speaking from a position of knowledge you shouldn’t be there. If you’re not speaking on a topic you care about, you shouldn’t be there. Speak from the heart and speak from knowledge (or skill or experience or all of the above).

Know what you want to talk about but don’t get hung up on the exact words.

For a pre-prepared presentation, preparation should include organising your points and info so they flow. It should not include writing it out word-for-word.

For truly impromptu situations, have a system for organising your points in your mind.

Having said all that…

Come to think of it, I don’t agree with Zach Galifianakis. Speaking without reciting lines or reading is not easy at all. If it was, everyone would be able to stand up, or go in front of a camera, and speak naturally and confidently.

But not many people can because it’s hard, and it’s uncomfortable.

That’s exactly why if you can learn to do it and get comfortable, you will stand out – because you will exude genuine authenticity, trustworthiness and authority.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

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