Earn the Right to Be Heard
Many say that leading change is all about vision. Knowing where you need to go is important, but it’s not enough. Leadership power depends on your ability to earn the right to be heard. If you skip this step, no one will care about — much less act on — your vision.
Today especially …
Leaders worldwide are in the hot seat. Expectations are high. Standards are elevated. The public and workforce are scrutinising them. Employees are much quicker to make harsh judgements about their leaders. That means as a leader you don’t have much room for error in what you say or do.
The problem is that trust is built over months and years of conscious effort, but it can be destroyed in a minute. Even if you don’t misspeak or behave badly, your actions and statements can be misinterpreted. You can also be ‘tarnished’ by those leaders who have fallen visibly on the front pages of newspapers across the world.
Does your workforce hear and believe what you say?
The odds aren’t in your favour. A recent Harvard Business Review survey reported that 51% of respondents said they have less trust in senior management of Non-US companies than they did a year ago. At the same time only half the workforce in Europe trusted senior leaders, as revealed by BlessingWhite’s research, at the start of the current recession. Those findings combined suggest that only 1 in 4 employees in Europe may trust their organisation’s top executives. Those aren’t the numbers you need to transform your organisation or capture a hefty share of the market.
Share your personal motivation.
Our research and the work of our partners, like Leading Out Loud author Terry Pearce, reveal that earning the right to be heard requires authenticity and self-disclosure. Your employees need to know enough about you to trust you as a person as opposed to just complying with your requests as ‘the boss.’ Yet many leaders assume that their actions demonstrate their personal passion. I’ve been working with a top executive at an information services firm who has an astounding thoroughness in decision-making. Yet he loses the opportunity to inspire confidence because he doesn’t share his thought processes with others. He misses moments to rally his team because he rarely reveals his deep passion and convictions.
Dan Vasella, the CEO of global pharmaceutical firm Novartis, on the other hand, is known for being very clear about his personal motivation. Vasella suffered from asthma, tuberculosis and meningitis before the age of ten. He watched his sister die of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As the result of these significant personal experiences, he became a physician and then moved into business determined to make a difference in the healthcare industry. In line with his convictions, he became president of Novartis at a young age. Vasella leads out loud, and makes sure everyone understands his personal motivation for driving change.
How about you? What brought you to your organisation? Why do you stay? When are you most passionate at work? What are you excited and hopeful for? Why should your employees listen and believe in your vision? Tell them. Don’t let them speculate to create a hidden agenda for you — because in the absence of information from you they will often assume the worst!
The mind looks for proof, the heart looks for passion.
The mind weighs facts, the heart acts on faith.
The mind looks for purpose, the heart seeks meaning.
The mind believes, the heart trusts.
Leading Out Loud
People are more likely to listen to you when you share where you’re coming from. But earning the right to be heard isn’t only about who you are and what you want. It’s also about your followers — and your understanding of their issues.
We recently worked on a change management process with a sales leader in a division that made nearly a third of its workforce redundant. Whilst this leader was determined to refocus her team and drive productivity, she knew she had to recognise their experience and feelings. She began by expressing gratitude for their extreme maturity and commitment to delivering exemplary service to customers despite the internal turmoil. She recognised collaboration across teams, specifically thanking several individuals in front of the entire group. She established common ground by saying, “Many of you might be thinking that this is unfair and it is not over. Like you, I want to have more certainty regarding the stability and future of the organisation.” This show of gratitude and acknowledgment of resistance and shared aspirations was, by far, some of the more powerful communication I have seen. Furthermore, by admitting her own relevant vulnerability, she invited others in to hear more. She created the commonality that we all desire. People knew it was sincere, and the vision that she was just beginning to create had a foundation to become the rallying cry the team needed.
Don’t wait …
You don’t need a clear vision of the required change before you begin earning the right to be heard. It needs to be part of your daily leadership actions. What experiences can you share about yourself that not only show off your competence and expertise, but also let people see a glimpse of your humanity? How can you sincerely show gratitude for effort, patience or commitment? What can you say to recognise great work? What stories can you tell to illustrate your values and personal motivation for what you do? How can you acknowledge employees’ worries and also create common ground?
Your competence gets you into the game. Personal connection, however, builds the trust that underpins everything you need to accomplish as a leader. It is the most powerful way to demonstrate that you are authentic and really care about others. The next time you open your mouth to ask people to act on your vision, ask yourself if you have earned the right to be heard. Or better yet, ask your followers what they think.