The Challenge of Clarifying Ideas – Part 1

Roosevelt on thought leadership and clarity of ideasFranklin Roosevelt once said, “All our great presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.”

If you substitute the word “company” for “nation” in Roosevelt’s quote, you’ll see how this concept applies to the world of business, not just politics.

Before you communicate your ideas, ask yourself whether you’re able to express your thoughts clearly and lucidly. Clearness of thought, particularly about fundamental issues inside your organization, is a prerequisite to communicating ideas in a compelling way.

Are you a great leader of thought at a time when ideas inside your firm need to be clarified? Ask, assess, then act.

Spreading ideas: M2M and social media

think about the impact thought leaders can make with social mediaI’ve frequently blogged about new acronyms and buzz words. This week’s thought leader language moment refers to both an acronym and a buzz word. M2M communications stands for many-to-many communications, which is the purpose of social media.

A solid social media strategy can help a thought leader build a reputation within an industry and in a wider public. You can gain traction for your ideas and get real-time feedback from peers, colleagues and potential clients…and sometimes just plain nutters. But that kind of spam can be minimized technically, and the benefits of wider exposure of your ideas certainly outweigh those risks.

Don’t think of social media as a generational thing that is only of interest to young people. Your contemporaries and their teams are using social media to communicate to wider audiences. It’s a place where you and your company can connect easily — many to many — and share ideas, spot trends and shape the future.

Do you have a robust social media strategy to promote and support you as a thought leader? Ask, assess, then act.

An “awesome” view?

Swiss skyscraper dwarfed by the Alps

The highest skyscraper in Switzerland (the blue-green building at right) is dwarfed by the Alps in the background.

Sitting in a restaurant atop the highest skyscraper in Switzerland, I’m reflecting on the use of language in the world of business. Here’s the connection.

I was looking forward to lunch in the Prime Tower, which does have a great view of Zurich’s lake and mountains in the distance, but I was disappointed to learn that the “highest skyscraper” is a mere 35 floors high.

The use of superlatives like “highest” or “best” or of diminutive words like “mere” or “only” can alter your meaning and your audience’s interpretation of your meaning. Among some of my colleagues, they cringe when they hear something described as being “awesome” – they label that over-the-top language as “typically American.”

In a recent article by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times, she pointed out how much more effective CEO communication can be when it doesn’t stray into the superlative zone.

She cited a memo written by Stephen Hester, CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, who described his employees not as the “best” or “greatest” or “most awesome” but as “good.” His exact words were “RBS is full of good people, doing their best …” The point that Lucy Kellaway was trying to make was that instead of using superlatives, the CEO was straightforward and realistic in his language. “Why this little word is so effective – apart from being delightfully unfashionable – is that one is rather inclined to believe it. It makes me think: yes, maybe RBS does employ a lot of good people.”

A good thought leader expresses his ideas and opinions in the least “loaded” or exaggerated language as possible. Are you paying attention to your diction when communicating with internal or external audiences and always choosing the right “reality-based” words to convey your message clearly? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help.

And the victor is…

Victor Hugo

The recent “war of words” between Britain and France has been making international headlines lately. Victor Hugo once commented that the French and the English needed each other because they both got better from the competition.

Are you experiencing any particularly aggressive external competition right now? Are you using that brouhaha to strengthen your company?

Times of struggle against a common “enemy” can unify your internal team members and help them pull together in one direction — hopefully that is the direction where your company needs to go. Are you consistently clear about that direction and who is the true “enemy” so that internal competition is eliminated and the focus is only on the external competition?

Are you communicating your thoughts well to those inside — and outside — your company? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help.

Sending the right and wrong signals

antenna signal towerAn intriguing article published by the London Daily Telegraph on this year’s anniversary of Armistice Day told the story of a “fake London” that France built during World War I to trick German planes into bombing a city to the north rather than the City of Lights.

The French began to dummy up buildings, the Champs-Elysées, factories and railway stations but didn’t complete the construction before the war ended. Without a highly developed radar system, enemy planes might be fooled into attacking the wrong site and bombing the phony city.

Is your “enemy’s” radar trained on you? What signals are you giving out that might allow your competitors to understand your strategy, to follow your trail? Does that give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace because they’re able to read these signals and anticipate and predict your destination?

A strong thought leader is less concerned about leaving a trail for competitors than blazing the trail for the industry. Yes, a certain amount of transparency of your own company’s strategy is a result of leading the industry in a particular direction.

Obviously as a thought leader, you believe the market will follow you, so you must clearly identify the destination. Others in the industry will therefore assume you’re leading your own company in that direction.

But that doesn’t mean you need to “give away the recipe for the secret sauce.” Thought leaders are skillful at being strategically specific when it applies to the industry and tactically general when it applies to their company. It’s a balancing act.

Are you able to lead the way in the industry without giving out such unambiguous signals about your company’s strategy that your competitors can imitate –or block – your tactical approaches to delivering on that strategy? Act, assess, then act. We’re here to help.

Keep the embers burning!

thought leaders keep the embers burningA preacher was trying to get a parishioner to return to church after a long period of not attending services after the elderly gentleman’s wife died. He called on the man one evening and was invited in to sit by the fire. Rather than talk to the old man directly about his church attendance, the preacher just sat rocking in a chair by the fire. He reached over and took a poker and then pushed the remains of one small burning stick away from the rest of the fire, and they both just watched it as those embers turned from red to cold gray. The preacher left and the following Sunday, the man was sitting in the pew of the church.

So what lessons on internal communication does this vignette hold for thought leaders? The obvious answer is that actions speak louder than words – sometimes it takes courage not to talk, but that’s the right thing to do. Other, more subtle lessons can also apply.

If your company has suffered a loss, like most firms during the Great Recession, your “surviving” employees may be feeling isolated and alone and negative about the organization. It’s important to continue to communicate frequently with them by bringing them together for town halls or internal meetings so that they can air their concerns. Don’t take this metaphor too far and start sermonizing to them, of course!

But communicating with particular individuals can also help strengthen the weakest links in your organizational chain. Are there are few key influencers inside your organization who are needing some one-on-one time with you right now – time when you can help them by your actions, as much as by your words, to strengthen their bonds to the company? Are you making it easy for people to “stick” to your organization so that when the bad times have passed, they won’t flee at the first opportunity? What can you do now, in the “mourning period” to ensure your employees will be there for you when the good times start to roll? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help.

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