As a leader, your voice and actions are two of the most important tools that you have to effect change. What you say enables you to promote your thoughts, beliefs and values to influence the people and world around you. Your actions are the steps you take to manifest those thoughts, beliefs, and values into reality. It is also by these words and actions that the world sees you and therefore determines who you are as a person and as a leader.
Silence and inaction are also powerful tools that you hold. This is regardless of whether you are conscious of your silence and inaction or not. Maybe you’re silent because you’re uncomfortable. Or you haven’t taken action because you’re indifferent to the subject matter. Or you’re just avoiding putting a stake in the ground for other reasons. Either way, what you don’t say and what you don’t do can be an even more powerful insight into who you are than what you do say and do.
Your voice and actions go hand-in-hand - without one, the other is incomplete. However, your voice (and silence), in particular, has a potential reach that is unlimited. While only those closest to you may get a chance to see you in action, your voice can reach people on the other side of the world. Therefore, as leaders, it is important to consciously choose what messages you are (and aren’t) sending out and what that means for the community, business, and world that you are creating.
What does it mean to be a better leader?
As a coach, one of my key jobs is to shift people from where they are now to where they want to be in a way that is long-lasting, sustainable and effortless. This starts with your mindset. If you can shift your mindset from where you are today to where you want to be, then your voice and actions follow.
One of my favourite tools to use with clients is the Ideal Image Tool. I have my client first write down the key roles that they play in life - Leader, Founder, Hedge Fund Manager, Consultant, Father, Wife, Breadwinner, Thrillseeker. They then pick the role that is top of mind and write all the qualities that describe their ideal version of that role, including attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours. After that, they rate themselves against each quality and prioritise the 3-5 most important qualities to work on immediately. We then work together to come up with a concrete plan to improve their rating of themselves on each quality by 2-3 points.
The Ideal Image Tool exercise is an insightful exercise for two reasons: First, you become concretely aware of where your most important gaps for development are. Second, it shifts your mind from who you believe you are today to who you could be tomorrow and encourages you to step into that ideal person now.
And here’s the big question: If you were that ideal person today, how would you better use your voice (and silence) to create the life you want for yourself and the world you want to live in?
Using your Voice and Actions to be that better leader
We take it for granted, but the ability to use your voice authentically, fearlessly, and confidently is powerful!
Think about the most recent meeting you attended: Who had the power? How did they express that power with their voice and/or their silence?
If you listened in on a critical decision-making meeting, I suspect you could make an accurate guess about the power dynamics based solely on what was said, without seeing or knowing the participants. The link between voice and power is palpable.
In a situation where you are in a position of power, this means that your voice and silence is important because you have the ability to control (or at the very least influence) the power dynamics. You can choose to hold power the whole time. Or you can choose to release that power to someone else to amplify their voice.
In a situation where you are not in a position of power, you can use your voice as a tool to gain power and showcase a more senior persona.
So.. what does this look like in practice? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Empower yourself with your voice and silence
Inspire others by crafting and sharing your story. “I want to be an inspiring leader” is a phrase I hear often. It starts with being authentically you because it is not what you do that is inspiring, it is who you are. Use your voice to share who you are, your journey thus far, and where you want to go.
Increase your impact by telling people what your gifts, passions and values are. An easy way for people to know what you are capable of is for you to tell them. This isn’t about boasting, it is about using your voice to share what you do so that you can help others and have the type of impact you want on the world. The alternative result is you likely doing less of what you want and more of what you don’t because if in doubt, people will fill the blanks if you don’t tell them.
Show thought leadership by voicing your recommendations and solutions. Demonstrate your expertise by sharing your thoughts and solutions to a problem. It not only shows your expertise in an area but also your confidence and ability to take the lead to move the agenda forward.
Demonstrate confidence and executive presence by being silent. Feel awkward about silence? Or nervous that people will think you don’t know something if you take a pause? It shows. Study the most powerful people in the world - they have no trouble holding silence. They are not only comfortable with it, but they also use it strategically, e.g. as a negotiation tactic. They aren’t afraid of the silence.
Empower others with your voice and silence
Sponsor others by speaking up when it matters. Not everyone can be in the room where it’s happening. Know someone who is great, but who doesn’t have a sponsor - take on the role. Promote them strongly when they aren’t in the room (e.g. in promotion meetings)
Support those with less power by speaking up with them. A junior colleague comes up with an idea but didn’t quite land the point? Don’t take their idea and re-present it. Instead, openly give them credit and express your support for their point, e.g. “That’s a great idea, Karen. I support your suggestion and would love to help you get it kicked-off”
Develop and motivate your colleagues by asking questions. “How can I better motivate my team?” I don’t know your team. Maybe try asking them what it is that motivates them. Find out what recent work they’ve particularly enjoyed doing and why, what their future aspirations are, and how you can help them fulfil it. Create a plan, with them, to help them grow. Sometimes, it really is as simple as asking.
Listen, in silence, especially when it opposes your views. After asking your question, just listen! Don’t hear to respond, react, or argue your point. Instead, listen to understand, acknowledge, and move the conversation forward.
Create the life and world that you want with our voice
Create change around the issues that matter most to you by speaking passionately about them. Equality, justice, poverty… dancehall. It doesn’t matter what it is. Speak passionately about what you care about to surround yourself with people excited to create your vision of the life and world you are excited to live in.
Own up to your faults by speaking up. Be fearless about owning up to what you could have done better in the past and share what you plan to do about it going forward. Admitting fault is not a sign of weakness, but instead, a sign of strength. It is a sign of a growth mindset and a show of confidence in yourself.
Achieve your goals faster by asking others to help. None of us is an island. Use your voice to ask for help where you need it. Maybe from someone with expertise in a topic you’re not familiar with. Or in a position of power or influence that you don’t have access to.
Centre yourself and find focus with silence. Sometimes, a little silence (both external and in your mind) is all you need to clearly see the obvious solution.
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Try the Ideal Image Tool and reflect on where your voice and silence are not aligned with who you want to be as a leader:
What topics are you staying silent on when you should speak up?
Where are you speaking over people you say you want to empower?
Where are you hiding your story, gifts, and passions due to fear, guilt, or a lack of confidence?