Achieving Business Success
By Robert L. Bailey
If you want to be an outstanding leader, the two most important skills are: Learn to write; and learn to speak. Even further, being able to write and speak proficiently are skills that contribute most to success in any of life's ventures.
Effective communication is the foundation of all dimensions of leadership. Great leaders tend to be great communicators. I challenge you to name a truly great leader who is not a truly great communicator.
PowerPoint must have been invented to help compensate for our weakness in communicating effectively. Unfortunately, PowerPoint is often misused and sometimes makes an otherwise weak presentation even weaker.
Sometimes I call PowerPoint "the poor person's teleprompter." The speaker's notes are projected on the screen, and the speaker, with back to audience, reads the notes to the audience.
Perhaps it's just as well that the speaker is reading the notes from the screen, because too often the text is so small, and the wording so lengthy, that nobody beyond the first row would have any hope of reading the screen.
The same goes for cutesy graphics that distract from rather than contribute to the message, and, my favorite, charts and diagrams that are so complex that they look like an organizational chart for all three branches of the Federal Government.
Effective communicators keep it simple.
It's hard for me to remember anything I learned in college, and I can remember the names of only a few professors. Of course, it's a two-way street. I'm confident my name isn't indelibly inscribed on the brain of any of my old professors.
But I do remember one thing that a former speech professor emphasized over and over again. "Most communications go astray," he said, "because of lack of organization. Organize well, and they'll remember it.
"The reason communications are so often misunderstood," he continued, "is that the speaker talks about issue one, then issue three, back to issue one, then on to two, and back to one again. Listeners become hopelessly confused."
We gave lots of speeches in his classes – one nearly every week. There was no PowerPoint in those days, and he discouraged the use of flip charts or transparencies to help get our messages across. "This is a speech class," he insisted. "We communicate by speaking."
We used a high tech Coke bottle to clarify our messages. That's as high tech as we had in those days. The bottle was a permanent fixture on the lectern in the front of the classroom. When a student gave a speech, a topic outline of the points to be covered in the speech was handed to the professor who sat in the back of the classroom. When the student moved from topic 1 to topic 2, the student was required to move the Coke bottle from the right side of the lectern to the left side of the lectern. When the student moved to topic 3, the Coke bottle must be moved back to the right side, etc. A student who failed to move the Coke bottle was marked down.
This kept the students on track and helped keep their messages organized and simple.
That's it for four years of college. Yet I still think about that Coke bottle when I prepare a message.
Organization is essential. That's number one. Number two is practice. Three, four and five are practice, practice and practice.
Back in my corporate life, our company had meetings for our independent agents in all our states of operation. "Your company has the best agency meetings of any company," we were often told. The reason was practice. We had a dry run for every program before we faced a live audience. Nobody liked to do this – and some felt it was unnecessary – but everyone generally agreed after the fact that practice had helped produce a good program that communicated clear, understandable, inspiring messages.
Number six is: Don't keep information to yourself. Share it.
A weak leader believes that knowledge is power and the way to retain that power is to keep information to oneself. The strong leader becomes even stronger by building a great team through communication.
In my former company, our people were told that there are only two secrets. As a publicly owned corporation, earnings for a calendar quarter cannot be shared until they're announced to the investment community as a whole. And companies or property we are trying to acquire, working under confidentiality agreements, cannot be shared until the deals are consummated. Other than these issues, everything is on the table.
People want to be a part of a worthwhile mission. They want to make significant contributions. They want to be a part of a winning team. Information about the organization and the industry helps build that inspired, motivated, happy, productive team.
Successful organizations tend to be communicative organizations. Communicative organizations have successful leaders. Successful leaders tend to be great communicators. And great communicators tend to keep it simple – like the high tech Coke bottle.