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How To Find Your Leadership Voice

Your team needs to be able to recognize what you value, why you care about it, and why it should matter to them.

This article orginally appeared in my column at Inc.

In my time working with leaders across dozens of industries, I’ve discovered one key factor that often determines their success or failure: whether or not their team actually believes what they are saying.

You can have a phenomenal vision, maintain mastery of your industry, and command complete respect from your peers, but if your team doesn’t fully believe you when you speak, they’re unlikely to put it on the line at critical moments. This can mean all the difference between a successful project and a failure.

To earn the trust of your team, you need to show them who you are. To put it another way, you need to develop your leadership voice. Your team needs to be able to recognize what you value, why you care about it, and why it should matter to them.

While developing your voice is a long process (that I addressed fully in my book Louder Than Words), there are a few questions you can ask to help you begin to weave your personal values into your leadership. I call these “The Notables”, because they are points of data that can help you identify what truly matters to you and put it into practice on a daily basis:

What makes you angry? I’m not talking about “road rage” or silly slights. I’m referring to compassionate anger. The word compassion means “to suffer with”, or to make suffering common. What do you experience that fills you with compassionate anger and compels you to take action? What do you see and think “someone should do something about that”? Don’t hide these things from your team. The more your team sees the pattern of things that motivate you to act, the more they will trust you. They will see that you have skin in the game.

One way to think about this is to ask “what will I not allow to happen on my watch?” What is the line in the sand that you draw and say “here I stand”, because it’s a hill that you’re willing to die on? It might be people overpaying for services or someone failing to work up to their potential. Whatever it is, make it known to your team.

What makes you cry? What moves you emotionally? Often we treat the workplace as an exercise in forced stoicism where we can’t emotionally engage. However, some of your best work will be animated by what moves you emotionally.

For example, I’m profoundly moved by the stories of underdogs. When I encounter a good David vs. Goliath story, it charges me up, and I do some of my best work for underdogs who are trying to take on the champions of their industry. What is that for you, and how can you reveal it to your team?

What gives you hope? Is there something you believe that few others around you do? What is the thing you’re looking forward to that drives your work each day? Tipping your hand and allowing your team to see your vision for the future is a great way to create stability and trust.

Again, developing your leadership voice is a long process that also involves maintaining a clear vision for the people you’re leading, and communicating with empathy, but by tapping into your through-line, or productive passion, you are well down the path toward earning your team’s trust at critical moments because they won’t be guessing about what you value.

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Last modified: December 7, 2022

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