Note from Art: this post was prompted by a series of questions from some early-career professionals about the process of developing as a leader.
I’ll grant you that the concept of “Leader’s Voice” is a bit abstract. In my mind, it’s much more than the spoken-words or communication approach of a leader. I suppose “leadership style” is a close neighbor. Close, but not exact.
A leader’s voice is that combination of factors: presence, demeanor, attentiveness, engagement, decisiveness, approach, bedside manner, confidence, humility, genuineness and so much more.
As an early career leader, you have little depth or breadth in your leadership voice. You struggle or at least strive to be relevant to your team members and your organization, and many flail in the process.
Over time as you gain experience, learn and build confidence, a complex leadership personality begins to emerge. This is what those around you will take as your style, but you know that it is much more than an outward fashion statement. It’s who you are as a person that also happens to serve as a leader.
Learning to lead is for most a journey of discovery. For those just embarking on this journey, the early phase is filled with awkwardness, uncertainty and a great deal of excitement. It’s like going to a new high-school where you don’t know the players and rules and cliques, except now you don’t just get to be an observer or a victim. You’re that awkward kid with braces and out-of-fashion clothing, and your supposed to be in charge.
With the passing of time and the benefit of experience-both good and bad, your leadership voice begins to emerge and take shape. If you are conscientious about your role and charter, this voice is characterized by the recognition that title is mostly meaningless and that you serve at the discretion of those that you lead.
With the benefit of experience, your core leadership behaviors…supporting and helping, coaching and delivering feedback, and your ability to articulate vision and give it context through goal-setting and daily managing, all contribute to this deepening leadership voice.
In discussions with experienced leaders, I’ve heard many stories about that moment-in-time when they recognized that they finally were comfortable in their leadership skins. It’s usually a new leadership role, and the moment-in-time is characterized by a sense of calm that in spite of all of the unknowns, the way forward was clear.
“I know my role, I understand how to use the tools of my trade and I am confident that I know how to gain the support and ultimately the commitment of the people around me,” was the description that one leader put on this moment-in-time recognition.
Another offered: “I’ve figured out how to get people involved, gain trust and provide help from day one in a new role. People feed off of my confidence, and I work hard to make certain that it never crosses over to arrogance.“
These individuals have found their leadership voices.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Don’t confuse the moment-in-time and this quiet confidence that I’m describing as sudden enlightenment…or as that point where learning ceases. Developing as a leader happens in waves and it never stops. And for anyone that believes that they’ve mastered it, remember that pride goeth before the fall.
However, given experience and commitment to developing as a leadership professional, that point where you finally have found your leadership voice is the time where you are capable of elevating your game and creating the best results for yourself, your team and your organization. It’s also when your ability to help others to find their own voices is most powerful. Don’t squander this great opportunity.