leadership

Think before you speak: How to sound like a leader

Martin Kovacs /

Developing a leadership voice can go a long way to helping managers and executives carve out a niche in the workplace, and being able to effectively assess how to handle situations as they arise is an important skill to develop.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, leadership expert and author Rebecca Shambaugh stressed the importance of “learning how to develop and convey a more strategic executive voice”.

“Whether you are an associate manager or a senior executive, what you say, how you say it, when you say it, to whom you say it and whether you say it in the proper context are critical components for tapping into your full strategic leadership potential,” Shambaugh said.

Shambaugh said in seeking “to establish credibility and influence people, particularly when interacting with other executives or senior leadership, it’s important to be concise and let individuals know clearly what role you want them to play in the conversation”.

Developing a “strategic executive voice” is also about “avoiding jargon and being a person of few — but effective — words”, she said.

Being aware of context

Being able to assess the context of business interactions will assist in establishing your voice and help to determine the approach you should take, said Shambaugh.

“For example, if you are the primary authority on a topic, then it’s likely that the context would require you to lead the meeting and make any final decisions,” she said.

However, other situations may call for a less active role.

“Knowing or finding out in advance what your expected role is in a group forum or event can guide you in determining the kind of voice you need for that particular venue and can help ensure that you understand the context before you speak up,” she advises.

Visionary perspective

According to Shambaugh, developing a wider perspective is a characteristic of visionary leaders.

She said visionary leaders take “an enterprise view that focuses less on themselves and more on the wider organisation”. Being visionary also involves “developing the ability to articulate aspirations for the future and a rationale for transformation”.

“This type of executive vision helps guide decisions around individual and corporate action,” she said.

“You should work toward connecting the dots with your recommendations to show how your decisions affect others around the table, including your staff and the organisation as a whole.”

Develop strategic relationships

The relationships you form in the workplace can also help expand your vision.

“One of the best ways to build your strategic thinking is by leveraging relationships more intentionally, with specific business goals in mind,” Shambaugh advised.

“This calls for having senior leaders and executives who bring a strategic perspective of the organisation’s goals, changes and top priorities that we may normally not have access to.”

Shambaugh recommends reaching out to at least one person outside of your immediate area each week, learning about their role in the business, their goals and challenges and how you could provide support for them as a strategic business partner.

Solutions to problems

Everyone in a workplace may be aware of the challenges that exist, but how do you tackle them?

“You can show up more strategically by doing your homework and taking the lead in analysing situations,” Shambaugh said.

“Brainstorm fresh ideas that go beyond the obvious. Even if you don’t have the perfect answer, you can demonstrate your ability to come up with clever solutions.”

Keep your cool

Being able to stay calm in stressful situations is important.

“Can you provide level-headed leadership even when — in fact, particularly when — everyone around you is losing their composure?” Shambaugh asked.

“When you can stick with facts instead of getting swept into an emotional tailspin no matter how stressed you feel, you’ll be able to lead with a more powerful executive voice.”

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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