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How these experienced leaders rated themselves

When I interviewed these 70 leaders for The Language of Leaders, I was very conscious that these were some of the most experienced people I had ever met, many of whom were at the end of careers spanning five decades. I asked each of them to rate their communication skills, on a scale of 0 to 10. Inevitably they rated themselves (on average) around 7/10, the same as the hundreds of leaders who have done my Inspiration Quotient test. Such a mark is, I believe, unhelpful. It says: ‘Modesty forbids me from rating myself higher, so I should allow some room for improvement, but nevertheless give myself a good score.’ This meant I had to probe a bit deeper: ‘Are there occasions when you’d mark yourself very low or very high, and what made the difference?’

Now, I got much richer, more meaningful answers. Almost universally, they said there could be a wide variation from day to day. On some days, they would rank their performance as low as 2/10. On others they would give themselves 10 out of 10. So what was it that made such a big difference?

On the occasions when they gave themselves 2/10, they may have delivered their lines perfectly, with all the professionalism and theatrics they had been trained to use, but they walked away with little response or engagement from the audience. On the other hand, on those occasions when they gave themselves 10 out of 10, they may have stuttered, spat on the front row, or even repeated or fluffed their lines, but they felt an almost metaphysical connection with the audience. They resonated with the mood in the room, they addressed the issues that mattered and they persuaded people to their cause. They could see that their words were positively stirring the emotions of the people they were addressing.

The lesson? Great communication is not about perfect oratory. It is about resonance and connection and engagement. It is about moving people. It is about how you make those people feel. It is not about monologue, it is about dialogue. It is not about being seen as inspiring – it is about making people feel inspired.

On this basis, I believe every leader has it in them to be a great deal more inspiring. To do this they need to articulate a clear sense of purpose that provides a ‘true north’ for their leadership. They must also learn to listen more attentively, become more proficient conversationalists, bring more of their personality to their leadership, be more audience-centric and learn how to tell stories.

These 70 leaders I interviewed knew – as I hope you do too – that you don’t communicate simply to provide information.

As a leader, you communicate to inspire.

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