Five More Ways to Ensure Your Message Resonates With Your People

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On Friday, we began the discussion about taking the necessary steps to build credibility with your constituents so your message resonates with them.
If you are a leader, look behind you.
Is anyone following you? If not, are you actually leading anyone? True leadership is a reciprocal relationship.
Your job is to create an environment where your constituents choose to follow you.
Forcing others to follow you will only be successful until there is any other choice for your people to make (including mutiny).
Show me a leader who expects others to follow just because a certain title has been bestowed upon him/her, and I'll show you a leader who is destined to fail.
In their book "The Leadership Challenge", James Kouzes and Barry Posner describe the traits that others look for when choosing to follow a leader.
They cite a number of studies from around the world which have shown people, regardless of culture, look for the same things from a leader: honesty, forward-thinking, inspiration and competence.
These four characteristics are the entry point to start any conversation on how to reach your people.
And the possession of these characteristics is determined by your constituents, not by you.
It is through your actions that you will demonstrate how much, or how little, of each of these characteristics you possess.
No leaders can just say they posses these skills and characteristics, they have to demonstrate their possession time and time again.
As a leader, your actions, behaviors, words and gestures are always under the microscope.
An effective leader will purposely look for opportunities to demonstrate to their constituents that their actions are aligned with their messages.
It is through this alignment that the effective leader builds resonance with people.
If you are interested in having people line up to follow you, consider implementing these five behaviors.
  1. Speak to the Heart and the Mind: when was the last time you did something because you had to? How engaged were you in the activity? You can present people all the statistics, data and logic to demonstrate why one behavior is desirable over another, but it is not until you create an emotional response that you will impact a change in behavior.
    For example, in the 1980's, Nancy Reagan began an impassioned campaign against drug use.
    Did she create messages focused on all the research about how illicit drug use can affect the human body? No.
    Rather, she crafted a message to create a visceral reaction: "this is your brain on drugs".
    In the past few decades, the message about why individuals shouldn't smoke has focused on creating an emotional reaction, not on the statistics behind the probability of smokers getting sick.
    These messages would not have credibility if it weren't for the facts behind the message, and wouldn't create action without the emotional appeal.
    When you are crafting your message, make sure you focus on building credibility through facts, and action through emotion.
  2. Build Collaboration, Not Control: No leader has all the questions, let alone all the answers.
    In order for others to believe in your message, they need to be invested in the message.
    Building the opportunity for all stakeholders to share their ideas and points of view can be a powerful means for creating a message that resonates with others.
    Nobody likes to be told what they have to do.
    Rather, people are more likely to engage in action if they understand and believe in the "why" behind any change.
    Providing others with the opportunity for their voice to be heard, to impact the direction of the process and ensure the needs of multiple stakeholders are taken into account will significantly impact the level of resonance.
    By providing the opportunity for differing points of view and experiences to shape a direction, your message will be speak the many, not to the few.
    But beware; simply opening up the conversation is not enough.
    You have to be ready to actually act on the information you gain from the collaboration.
    If not, your people may view your actions as an exercise in futility.
  3. Focus on the Wins, not the Losses: Nobody likes to lose.
    We are all driven, at least in part, by a desire to move a process forward and to make a difference.
    If our actions fail to make a difference, or if they consistently miss the mark, we are far less likely to be motivated to continue down the same path.
    But if we set up our people and teams up for wins, where they feel they are making a difference, they are more likely to continue on their journey.
    Create the opportunity, especially early on, for your team to get easy wins.
    Their confidence and esteem will be positively impacted.
    When you do suffer a setback, look at the results and learn from the experience.
    If you can ensure your organization learns from failures, even these setbacks can become a win.
    Putting people in a position where they can do their best, and then recognizing them for the accomplishments, will help others realize you are interested in what is best for them, not just for you.
  4. Challenge the Status Quo: When was the last time anything great happened by doing things exactly the same way as before? By definition, you can't move forward by staying where you are.
    Creating an environment where others are not afraid to try something new, to take a chance, to innovate, you will create the opportunity for greatness.
    But beware, if you punish those who try something new, you will squelch all innovation.
    You have to be willing to learn from mistakes and take a chance.
    Creating a learning organization will ensure your people are not afraid to challenge the way it has always been done in the past.
    All great innovations, from the PC, to the space travel, to the light bulb to the assembly line, all started with someone asking "why" and looking for a better way.
  5. Clarify and Model the Values You Cherish: Know what you believe in, what you stand and what behaviors you desire to see.
    Then model these behaviors and values.
    Simply printing up pocket cards, banners or brochures will do nothing to improve the likelihood that the behaviors you want to see, will really come to fruition.
    People will look for behavioral clues as to what is important.
    If your message and actions don't match, your words will become nothing more than rhetoric, and you will lose credibility.
    Talking about open communication will never lead to open communication if you shut down anyone with ideas different from yours.
    If your company has value statements that don't match the actions of your organization, you owe it to the company, your people and yourself to stand up and either change the behaviors or change the value statements.
    Incongruity will never create resonance.
In the end, your effectiveness as a leader is more about what you do, rather than what you say.
To create a message and a direction that will lead your organization to success, you must be willing to make some tough choices and take a stand for what you believe in.
When you do, you will find your people will be right behind you every step of the way.
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