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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford


Leadership Thoughts | Issue #92

“If you cannot simplify a message and communicate it compellingly, believe me, you cannot get the masses to follow you.” - Former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi.

Good communication is sometimes taken for granted. We are constantly sending and receiving signals in verbal and non-verbal ways, making it easy to overlook honing this skill. Leadership expert John Maxwell said that leadership is about influencing others, which starts with building trust through effective communication. The most successful leaders are competent communicators.

In this week’s Leadership Thought, I will introduce you to an article published by Harvard Business Review on three strategies that will enhance your communication and ability to influence.

Carmine Gallo | Harvard Business Review

Carmine Gallo is the author of numerous books on the topic of communication. Several examples are The Storyteller’s Secret, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and his current research, The Bezos Blueprint. The author uncovers four common tactics of outstanding leaders while researching The Bezos Blueprint.

In this day and age, ideas are the starting point for success in virtually any career. An idea might be brilliant, but without being able to influence those around you and get them on board, your idea won’t go very far. Great communicators are no longer viewed as having “soft skills.” Those at the top of the corporate ladder don’t just talk about how important it is to have strong communication skills. They actively study the different facets of communication — writing, speaking, presenting — and strive to get better at them every day.

The author uncovers four common tactics of outstanding leaders while researching The Bezos Blueprint.

1. Use short words to talk about hard things.

The problem with big words and long sentences is that they are difficult to understand; therefore, they create a “cognitive strain.” Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, said, “If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do.” Gallo explains that writing that is easy to read doesn’t mean the document sounds like an eighth-grader wrote it. The ability to take complex concepts and make them simple is not dumbing down. When an image is easy to understand, it is more likely to be persuasive.

2. Choose sticky metaphors to reinforce critical concepts.

The purpose of a metaphor is to compare an abstract idea to something familiar. When you communicate a new or complex thought, the audience actively searches for experiences to help them understand. Using metaphors simplifies the process and short cut possible misunderstandings.

The author used Warren Buffett’s metaphor to help his team to evaluate potential investments. “The most important thing we do is to find a business with a wide and long-lasting moat around it, protecting a terrific economic castle with an honest lord in charge of the castle.”

3. Humanize data to create value.

For years, we’ve all heard the following statement – data-driven (or informed) decisions, what does the data say, and follow the data. We saw the charts focusing on the statistics. Standard test scores have been aggregated and used to drive instructions. Data teams studied and looked at the numbers until our eyes and brains blurred. The problem is not taking the data to the next step and reducing cognitive overload. The author writes about a humanized date and makes the data engaging, memorable, and persuasive. In my humble opinion, making curricular, instructional, and learning decisions based on aggregated test scores is like (metaphor) painting a detailed picture with a paint spray gun. The author provides the following example of humanizing the data.

In 1997, when NASA launched the Cassini space probe to explore Saturn, skeptics raised questions about its $3 billion price tag. Neil deGrasse Tyson was prompted to appear on TV shows to educate the public on the mission’s merits. But first, he had to address the price tag shock factor. So, he pulled out a data comparison from his toolkit to explain the mission’s cost. He stated that the government had allocated $3 billion to last over the course of eight years. He further noted that Americans spent more annually on lip balm than NASA spent on Cassini over that period. When you humanize the data, it becomes more relevant and precise.

4. Make mission your mantra to align teams.

The author shared the following. A mission statement tucked away in a drawer, only to be forgotten, is not enough to unify a team around its purpose. Research by Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter revealed that most leaders don’t communicate their vision nearly enough. He claims that unless hundreds or thousands of people are willing to devote themselves to the cause, transformation is impossible - even if it means making sacrifices in the short term. Too often, mission statements and mantras are created and posted on the website but not driving the behavior and actions of the organization. A mantra or slogan should represent your organization’s mission. Gallo says, “if your mission stands for something, then stand up for it.”

John Kotter’s research demonstrates that most leaders under-communicate their vision for the organization by a factor of 10. Leaders cannot over-communicate.

The good news is that you can improve whether you are a poor or exemplary communicator. The first step is to want to improve, step two is to identify the needed skills, and step three is to practice and repeat. I hope this week’s Leadership Thought gave you some ideas and inspired your leadership thinking.


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