Leadership Imperatve: Speaking Up!


Okay, I admit it. I'm tired.

Tired of hearing people say, "I thought of that" but never said so. Tired of the "I knew that would happen" refrain but no forewarning to the people taking action.

And that's from the executives and business owners.

From the managers and employees at all levels, I'm tired of hearing that they're so disgusted because things keep going wrong - and they know what's right - but they never say.

So, I'm tired of both the words and the silence.

And that has put me on a quest.

In more conversations, meetings and memoranda these days I find myself saying, "Say it. Say it out loud." Frankly, it doesn't matter what "it" is. What's important is that people at all levels stand up for their knowledge, experience and beliefs and say out loud what they know or think.

Before it's too late - because unless people start talking, it will be too late for one organisation after another.

What we knew of competition in the past in no way compares to what competition looks like now or in the future. Everything - and more - that was hypothesized about how business would change with the growth of information technology is coming true. And that's just the beginning. Even the best of the business and societal futurists don't really have a clue what is to come.

Which means that working faster and smarter takes on a completely different - and deeper - meaning than ever before.

Information is not power. That's a fallacy. In fact, information has the shortest sell-by date imaginable. Almost before you've thought it, either someone else has - or worse, someone else has already acted upon it.

It's beyond the proverbial "you snooze, you lose." It's organizational life or death.

Which means that, strategically or operationally, the greatest asset any organisation has is the thinking of its employees and stakeholders. The more information on the table, the more everyone has to work with, the better the decisions.

Does this slow things down? Initially, yes - but only because no one is used to talking out loud. Whether because of fear, disgust or sheer laziness, people keep their thoughts in their heads. They may not even know how to convey their thinking they're so out of the habit of talking, discussing, debating.

And let's get past some things really fast:

  • This isn't about 'sharing'. It's not that pretty. It's about survival.
  • If someone disagrees with you, the answer is not to shut down. It's to take their ideas and thoughts, see how those ideas apply to yours and jointly find a way to build more out of everything on offer.
  • Don't be personal - and don't take things personally. This isn't about you, even if the thought is yours. It's about creating something far larger than yourself.
  • Your thoughts have no limits. Neither do you. So, whether in your brain or out of someone else's mouth, if you start hearing 'no' don't give up and don't give your thought up. It may not work in this situation, but it may well work in another. And if not in this company, then in another.

And, while we're here, let's get another thing really clear: Talking out loud takes courage.

Whether you're an executive or trying to get there, every time you open your mouth you'll feel like you're putting your ego and reputation on the line. And, if you're an executive, you may be putting your job there too.

Tough. That's why you make the big bucks (no matter how large or small you may think them). Because the only way people can know what you want and what you want the organisation to achieve is to say it.

Sometimes over and over again. Ad infinitum. Until you've almost bored yourself to tears.

But if you're an executive, the only way people will believe you mean what you say is if you keep saying it - and then ensure that your actions and your management group's actions are all in alignment with those words.

Because that's the next step: Thoughts. Words. Action.

Once you get your thinking out of your brain and into words, the next most important step is to take action based on those thoughts and words. And the more you demonstrate that alignment, the faster the process will work.

It's not by accident, you know, that companies like eBay and Google just keep expanding and innovating. And it's not just one or two people who are making that happen. It's that - from their inception - their executives created cultures that not only supported but demanded a level of engaged, committed communication that far exceeds standard organisational operating procedures.

And you don't have to be a technology company to make it happen. The best of the best all have that culture - across countries and in every sector.

So start talking out loud about what you think and what you want. And then ask, "How do we get there? What do you think?" and listen hard to the answers.

Eventually, you'll find that you have to do the least talking of anyone. Your vision for your organisation will be achieved and exceeded every day - because you made it happen one word at a time.

About the author:
Leslie Kossoff is an internationally renowned executive adviser, writer and speaker and one of the most intelligent and perceptive voices on executive and managerial leadership today. She advises clients in both the private sector (www.kossoff.com) and the public sector (businessandpolitics.co.uk).


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Posted on 06/03/2009 by


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