Singers and writers are often urged to find their authentic voice, but leaders?
Kouzes and Posner believe that as a leader, you must speak in an authentic voice: “If the words you speak are not your words but someone else’s, you will not, in the long term, be … credible. ”
In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner offer several long-term strategies for developing an authentic voice, including imitating other leaders and clarifying your values.
But what can you do when you have a short-term deadline—two hours to compose a memo preparing employees for bad news or two days to write a speech inspiring your whole organization to change?
Here are some ways to find your words in challenging situations.
1. Ask yourself, “What do I need people to know or do?”
2. Find a simple way to tell people what you want them to know or do. One way to pare your message down to essentials is to ask,”If I had only 30 words or 30 seconds to share this idea, what would I say?”
3. Experiment with different wordings until you find one that feels right. You might sense, “That’s it!’ You might notice a shift in your body, such as a feeling that your head is clearing or your gut is relaxing.
4. Once you have a basic message that feels authentic, test your wording. Consider how your audience might react to your message. One strategy is to imagine yourself speaking your message in front of an audience. What reactions might you expect? Would your audience be likely to be enthusiastic? confused? offended? You can also ask for feedback from trusted associates or typical members of your audience.
5. If your message resonates well with you but not so well with your audience, go back to Step 2. Ask yourself, “If I had only 30 words or 30 seconds to share this idea with this audience, what would I say?”
6. Continue refining your message until it feels right to you and for your audience. If you start to feel that you’re just looping through the steps without gaining additional clarity, take a break or start to develop a rough draft. Either strategy will give you a fresh perspective. You can also switch modalities. If you’ve been speaking, try writing. If you’re stuck writing, try speaking aloud or creating a presentation. If your ideas refuse to come together, talk them through with a sympathetic listener. If you need ideas, try reading or consulting a colleague.
7. Read your final draft aloud. Revise any wording that causes you to stumble. Notice whether your words sit comfortably in your voice, or whether they feel stiff and too formal or lightweight and too casual.
The end result will be a unique combination of your message, your personality, and your relationship to your audience: your authentic voice.
The quotation from Kouzes and Posner is from The Leadership Challenge (Jossey-Bass , 2002), p. 44.
For more on noticing bodily shifts, see “An Introduction to Focusing: Six Steps”: http://www.focusing.org/sixsteps.html