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Your leadership trump cards

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Eileen N. Sinett, author of “Speaking that Connects,” is a coach-consultant and keynote speaker whose knowledge spans several cross-functional disciplines: the speech arts, communication sciences, psychology, career management, and training and development. She is committed to promoting confidence and clarity in speakers worldwide, enhancing personal and business relationships through communication improvement, and raising the bar on speaking performance with her unique presentation training brand, Speaking that Connects.

What influences you? How do you make decisions? When credentials, experience and reputation are equal — what tips the scale?

Think about the last contractor you hired. Perhaps you needed a roof repaired or a professional to troubleshoot your computer. Maybe you asked trusted friends and colleagues for referrals. Maybe you checked the Internet. You probably narrowed your search to three candidates, met with each one and compared estimates to help you with your choice. But how do you decide when all are equally qualified with almost identical fees? What factors break the tie?

As with the contractor selection process, leadership influence — the ability to persuade colleagues, departments, organizations and teams to rally around your ideas — extends beyond name, rank and specialized expertise. Most professionals with leadership roles are experienced and knowledgeable. But are they approachable and likeable? Do these qualities matter? I think so.

Your ability to communicate is one of your leadership trump cards. Your words anchor and explain your strategic vision and plans, yet they are only a part of your communication. Personal image, body language and voice also have impact for sure, but they aren’t the complete communication picture either. Instead, it’s more the integration of one’s inner voice (conviction, sincerity, kindness) and outer voice (tone, emphasis, cadence and pause) that influence audiences to nod “yes.” Well-articulated and voiced ideas are essential, and they represent one of the leadership trump cards.

When I began my career in communication, I learned to see and to hear what most people overlook. As a speech pathologist from behind one-way mirrors, I was trained to observe behavioral details I initially didn’t notice and to listen “between the lines” and beyond the words. This training continues to be valuable to me as a presentation coach and communication consultant, and to the professionals I support to communicate at their best. Over the years, I have observed that when it comes to leadership communication, what you see and hear is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Beneath the iceberg are the “invisibles,” the most potent of the leadership trump cards: passion and compassion, intention and conviction, authenticity and engagement, honest, integrity, respect and trust. These are the qualities that bring people to your corner and drive your ideas forward. Simply put, it’s the who you are (presence) in what you do that attracts people to you; sharing that depth of your unique self with others (connection) is what influences people to follow your lead. What you sense and feel, rather than see and hear, is frequently, the influencing “tie-breaker.”

People listen to facts, but they buy on feelings that get stimulated when leaders risk being authentically present. Leaders who align their behavior (what you can see and hear), with the inner qualities, project likeability, attract respect and engage trust. When you like someone, you’re willing to go all out for them.

Middle and upper management lead and set direction. By communicating clearly and integrating thought, behavior and the invisible qualities of heart, “gut” and spirit, leaders charge these three communication “circuits.” As a result, they are more likely to connect with and influence their listeners. This is because, as human beings, we are innately programmed to respond and resonate to communication that stimulates those centers in us.

Remember clients, colleagues and employees are human beings first. Their technical talents are overlaid upon a more primal self. When you as a speaker or leader appeal to this depth in each person, you create an authentic bond, a personal connection. People want to follow you and your ideas. They trust you because you have touched them with your unique and genuine self.

Just think of how different John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign might have been if he had been able to integrate these invisibles with his image and experience. Isn’t Mitt Romney struggling with the same problem today?

The best leaders are comfortable in their own skin. They are well-balanced emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. They are self-aware, “other-conscious” and authentically present. And, as a result, their influence goes way beyond ideas and experience.

Develop your inner invisibles, clearly communicate your vision and project your unique presence. These are the leadership trump cards that will magnetize others to follow your lead and bring your ideas to fruition.

Image credit: SimmiSimons, via iStockphoto