Why Leaders Speak

When you’re a leader, you have to look and sound like a leader every time you speak. Your reputation and the success of your organization depend on it.

If you aren’t a leader but you’d like to become one, the best way to position yourself as a leader is to speak like one.

Even if you don’t want to be a leader, you can gain a better hearing for your ideas if you learn from how leaders speak.

And the first thing to realize is that leaders don’t speak to communicate information. At least that’s not their primary reason for speaking.

Here Are Three Reasons Why Leaders Speak

1. To shape the IDENTITY of their audience

Leaders tell their listeners (or remind them when they have forgotten) who they are — what binds them together, what makes them unique, what sets them apart from others.

Political leaders are always doing this. They define who “we” are, whether the “we” is partisan (“we Democrats” or “we Republicans”) or inclusive (“we Americans”). Military leaders do the same thing. Marine drill sergeants teach recruits not just the skills and techniques of warfare, but the basis of a new and shared identity — “the few, the proud, the Marines.” Business leaders do the same thing. They talk about their organization’s values and history, its unique approach or style, its accomplishments. Leaders are always saying in one way or another, directly or indirectly, “This is who we are or should be or can be.”

2. To INFLUENCE how the audience thinks and feels

Influence isn’t about persuading listeners what to think and feel about a specific issue. It’s about shaping how they think and feel about issues in general.

Leaders have a vision or a dream — a compelling image of a better future. And they speak tireless to make their audiences see what they see, to see things the way they do.

3. To INSPIRE the audience to act.

Inspiration, literally, means to “breathe into.” In this case, to breathe life and vitality into your audiences. You do that not by giving them step-by-step instructions but by giving them a motivation, a desire to act. You give them the hope that they can achieve their desires.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather the wood, divide the work, and give orders,’ wrote Antoine Sanit-Exuperty, aviator and author of The Little Prince. “Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Military leaders before a battle, political leaders in times of crisis, coaches during halftime, preachers all the time — they know that what people often need is not more instruction, but more inspiration, not more “how to,” but more “you can.” And successful leaders in every other endeavor know it, too.

You may not be a leader or have any great desire to become one. But if you take a lesson from the way leaders speak, you can gain people’s attention, change how they think and feel, and stir them to action.

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For information about how Chris Witt can help you become a more powerful speaker, contact us.

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