Where Leaders Get Stuck


Ever felt stuck in your development as a leader?

Have you ever noticed how the best leaders – you know, the ones you really respect – tend to also be great communicators? Would you like get unstuck? If so, read ahead to learn the correlation, and learn how you can make one change and see greater success in both your speaking and leadership skills.

Think about the three successive key areas to being a successful speaker:

Know Your Self
Know Your Message
Know Your Audience

Both speaking and leadership follow similar development tracks here, but if you aren’t focused on your audience, you may be stuck and not even know it.

Know Your Self

Nearly every new speaker has started out uncomfortable in front of their audience. Practice is critical here to be able to Know Your Self. In Toastmasters, the Competent Communicator (CC) manual helps here, as you develop presentations to practice specific skills.

A new leader will suffer from similar uneasiness. Not being sure of your authority, how others will perceive you and how you’ll react to adversity can make the transition to (or through) leadership difficult. In Toastmasters, understanding and following the core values can be a big help in Knowing Your Self. Respect, Integrity, Service, and Excellence (RISE) are values you can use to center your leadership and move to the next phase.

Know Your Message

As a speaker, this is where you find your voice, determine what you have to offer, and tell your stories. It may take some time to find your niche, but when you do you’ll see your value in the faces of your audience as you guide, teach or inspire them to act.

As a leader, you’ll see some similarities developing – guide, teach and inspire are also aspects of leadership. As a leader, your voice – your story – will be partially dictated by your organization. Whether you follow the corporate path, or your own, you need to understand what your message is if you can hope to deliver it.

This, unfortunately, is the phase where both speakers and leaders get stuck.

Why? Because they don’t know their audience. In fact, they probably have been trained (or learned on-the-job) to ignore the “noise” and plow ahead with the facts.

Oddly enough, most leaders stuck here (speakers too!) feel that they are doing the right thing, and by not allowing distraction they are more effective. They tend to suffer from “good enough” syndrome. “Why change if it’s working?” – Because it isn’t really working. You’re just getting by for now.

Know Your Audience

This is the most powerful lesson in Speaking and in Leadership. Powerful because of just how much you get, and how much your audience benefits from the change.

It’s also very risky, which is why many avoid this technique. It means you have to accept criticism. You have to be willing to change. You have to be willing to defend yourself with more than, “because I’m in charge!!” If you can’t handle those aspects, it will be a tough change. But…worth it.

Connection – by understanding your audience and the differences between what you know and what they need, you can tailor you style to make sure you communicate effectively, and truly lead them instead of just telling them what to do.

I had a troop once who would be late to work once in a while, and just barely on-time other days. I had to ask, “What does on-time mean to you?” She replied, “If I’m in the building by 7:30, I’m okay, right?”

Even the sharpest of people can’t read your mind. If you see a difference between what you asked for and what they did,  you probably didn’t connect. Listen to your audience and adapt your message.

Authority – When I’ve taught leadership seminars, I’ve used the tried-and-true example of earned vs. implied authority I learned in the Air Force.

Implied authority is what we’re mostly used to. Your authority comes from your position, i.e. Director, Sergeant, Project Lead, etc. Implied authority comes before you even meet your audience, much less know them. It’ll get you off the ground with the team, but leaders who live off of implied authority lack the true respect of their people, and are usually less effective.

Earned authority is what you want to strive for as you know your audience. Show respect to get respect. Care. Listen. Train. Explain. Understand. Basically, all the stuff you wish your boss did.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you create a democracy with your team. You’re still the boss, and accountability rests with you. But, if you do it right you should never have to remind your team that you are the boss.

Respect – You have to give respect to get respect. What does that mean? It means you take the high road. You never “Reply to All” to tell someone they messed up. You do reply to all to congratulate someone on a big win. You show (real) appreciation and give your team a chance to give you their recommendations before you make the final decision. Even if you go your own way, they’ll respect that you considered their opinion. Take time to explain your decisions – not to satisfy critics – to train your people on the methods to make the right decisions themselves.

I’ve found that 90% of the time, the excuse, “I don’t have time to explain” is a cop-out. Make the time for respect, or they won’t either.

Excitement – You can’t create energy, excitement or excellence by just droning on. Get them involved. In speaking, include exercises and interaction. As a leader do the same off the stage. Have a team lunch once in a while, do non-work things with them and give your team opportunities to lead their own projects and watch the energy change.

This will seem odd, but knowing your mission can lead to excitement. What? No, not reading the mission statement to them. I mean making sure they know their role in the team’s (or company’s) mission. When they know that they matter to the mission and to you, they’ll be more likely to respond to adversity with a positive attitude. When they feel the work has no value, then they feel that they have no value. Where is the fun in that?

You may find that you’ve done well with improving in the phases of Know Your Self and Know Your Message. But you still are struggling with your results, you may need to take another look at the skill Know Your Audience. As you practice these skills in both speaking and leading, you’ll see the complimentary improvements in both as you progress.

The most respected leaders in the world have at least one thing in common: They know their audience. If you’re stuck in the rut of leadership, it’s time to get out now!



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