It’s been a while since I’ve posted a “how to”-style article and I thought it might be helpful to have a quick look at some tools that can help with one of the most challenging part of anyone’s job. The title is of course tongue in cheek but there are small things we can do that will make a transformative difference. Things no one told Phil Davison in the video above. Don’t be Phil.
It’s funny, as sophisticated communication is the one gift humans have that surges us far beyond all other intelligent life; yet it is the cause of so much confusion and uncertainty in both our professional and personal lives.
As an actor, I love communication. Like anyone, I don’t always get it right but when I was 17, performing in a Shakespeare lead for the first time at school, I discovered that the relationship between me and the audience was one I inherently understood. I felt powerful in that space. I had found where I belonged. My journey to Coach has been a long and winding one (politics degree, actor training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, professional actor, professional theatre director, coach, business leader) and I am passionate about sharing the thrill I felt as that 17 year old with others. I hope I can help them, if not love the dynamic created when speaking to an audience, to at least approach it without fear or trepidation.
So here are 10 perspectives on successful communication. Where I’ve italicised I am referring to a skill or technique to implement.
I’ve been working with a lot of professional services firms recently and have been struck by the leadership demands being made on people transitioning into very senior roles. Particularly those making partner.
The step up to partner is a huge one and the pressure people
are under is immense.
Getting to partner means you’ve been a superstar on your way
up. When you get there, however, you move from being at the top of the tree, to
being back at the bottom. Like the new kid at big school, you are now having to
fight for yourself as the buck now quite literally stops with you.
I coached someone today who has a personally very important
speech to deliver and wanted to get it as right as possible.
As I listened to him speak I was struck by the demonstration of leadership that he was embodying in both what he said and how he said it. For me, it also was a brilliant example of how to solve the strategy/execution conundrum that is the source of so much leadership scholarship.
I’m not sure about you but I’m better at giving advice than receiving
it. My privilege as a trainer and performance coach is to be able to fall back
on “do as I say, not as I do”. This is not something I’m particularly proud of
and nor is it something I want to admit to those I work with. I console myself,
professionally at least, with the fact that my diagnostic skills lie in helping
others and not myself. It also can’t be very helpful for anyone with the unenviable
task of being my coach.
Recently, however, I was offered some advice and in spite of
my habit, I took it. Surprisingly, to me anyway, the shift in awareness it
provoked has rippled through my whole life. My own coach is a mindfulness expert
and while we don’t spend too much time on this topic she set me a related task.
I was to take an everyday activity and be fully in it as I perform it, noticing
the sensations provoked by the experience.
Now, I’m not good at doing what I’m told. I will find ingenious ways not to do the homework I’ve been set (the French “devoir” always seemed a much more appropriate name). But over the Christmas break I had little excuse not to do one of the two very simple requests made of me.
I work at a world leading drama school and as you would expect, it’s an institution full of stories. Which is lucky, as for some time now, storytelling has been at the forefront of countless organisations’ learning needs.
So much written about Millennials suggests that they are turned off by the way generations before them have done things. As someone engaged in professional learning this interests me.
Millennials, it would seem, are more civic and community minded than their predecessors. Lacking the financial security from which their parents have benefitted they are not as interested in a career path as generations before them. Instead, meaningful work, creative outlets and immediate, interactive feedback mean a lot. One only needs to look at a random selection of start-ups to see this behaviour in evidence.
What does this mean for those of us now who work in more traditional institutions, based on and run by baby boomers or Gen X-ers? It’s an important question because bigger and slower moving organisations still need to employ, engage and retain millennials.
This week is a big week for me. We are moving house, have said goodbye to builders who have been preparing our new place and are expecting our second child in less than two weeks. All the things you’re told not to do together, we’re doing them.
This has led me to reflect on resilience and leadership. With a heavily pregnant wife much of the heavy lifting (literal and metaphoric) has fallen to me. At times I haven’t held up as robustly as I would like to think I would be able to.
It’s not a great feeling and it’s left me furious. As I reflect on the particular circumstances of the scam (no crime, just a disingenuous shop owner) I find myself trying to understand the nature of my rage. Because that’s what I feel. Rage.
It’s shouldn’t be a big deal. I have a new charger for my mac that works, but it’s not worth the money I paid and not as good as the proper Apple product. So why am I so upset by the incident?
We expect people to know how to communicate brilliantly. In fact, we take this skill so for granted that we don’t bother to teach so called “soft skills” at school, at university or even in most work-placed training environments.
If you have been on a training course that I have run, you will likely have heard me lament this fact.
The dread of delivering a presentation dogs many of us. There are few who actually relish the prospect of public speaking. Nevertheless, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be brilliant. We mustn’t mess up, must be the expert, must be impervious to doubt, and meet any challenge with a flawless response. Intellectually we recognise that these are unrealistic aims but we still pressure ourselves to be perfect. This striving for perfection is not helpful for myriad reasons, not least because it puts you at the centre of every situation; and guess what? You’re not.
Whenever you’re delivering a presentation you are the least important person in the room.