Finding Your Signature Voice
Leaders need to bring together two capabilities:
– Voice for self: The ability to demonstrate your value and distinction
– Voice for others: The ability to connect and align with your stakeholders
When leaders are able to use both capabilities—two voices—and operate “in the zone,” they have found their Signature Voice.
The challenge all individuals face is to adaptively use both voices: to speak for yourself, your team, and your function and to know when to do the same for others, their teams, and their functions. As you move along the leadership pipeline and the demands on you increase, you must adapt your voice for self and voice for others, expanding your abilities to demonstrate your value and to connect and align with others.
When a leader’s voice for self is stronger, her presence slides out of Signature Voice to driving voice. When a leader’s voice for others is stronger, his presence slides out of Signature Voice to supportive voice.
There are situations or circumstances when you should strategically use voice for self more than your voice others and vice versa. But you should never fully abandon one voice for the other. It’s about strengthening both so you can use them agilely.
How do I get to Signature Voice?
Leadership presence is the aggregate of three things: assumptions (mind), communication strategies (skill), and energy (body). These make up the ACE model.
When building your Signature Voice, you need to focus on all three as a system, not just one aspect.
The ACE model helps you condition your mind, skill, and body for any situation or audience and gives you an actionable way forward that helps you interpret feedback, marries your intent with your desired impact, and honors your strengths.
While each component of ACE is a separate lever, all three are inextricably linked. Your assumptions drive what you say and how you appear to others. And in return, your communication strategies and energy influence your mind-set.
#1 Assumptions: Mental Conditioning
Looking at the assumptions you make is important because they underscore every action you take and word you speak. They are the foundation from which you act. Any cracks or faults in this base will have ripple effects throughout your behavior and can undermine your best intentions. For many, tacit assumptions are unnecessary baggage that holds them back.
To mentally condition your Signature Voice, you need to continually update your assumption of what you bring to the table. Being clear on your value proposition—knowing your personal brand and vision for yourself as a leader—is a key component of mental confidence.
Your perspective influences your presence. As you become more senior, you need to think at the level of the organization rather than restricting your view to a function or unit. By taking a strategic perspective, you can better align and coordinate other groups and functions.
Your values can either bolster your presence or get in your way. Gain clarity on your hot buttons—know what matters most to you while acknowledging that others have different values.
#2 Communication Strategies: Skill Conditioning
Framing your message provides your audience with the context to interpret your message. Frames focus people on the most important issues and make your message salient to others. There are several types of frames, including strategic frames, outcomes frames, metaphor frames, and sound-bites frames. The ultimate frame a leader can provide is a vision of the future.
You can strengthen your voice for self by building your ability to advocate. Structured advocacy requires knowing your audience, your stake in the ground, and identifying the outcome you want to achieve. Structure your speech by organizing points into buckets and categories.
Even with a great frame and clear message, you have to be able to connect and engage your audience. You can increase your voice for others by conditioning your listening skills. There are three levels of listening that a leader can use strategically, depending on the situation and the audience: surface listening, issues-based listening, and the deepest level, emotions-based listening. Asking insightful questions keeps the conversation flowing, demonstrates your interest in the issues, and forges a connection with your audience. Other connector strategies can also help you engage and influence your audience in small forums, such as one-on-one discussions or in larger settings, such as all-hands meetings or skip-levels.
#3 Energy: Physical Conditioning
Energy is what people see when they look at you. It is more than just your “book cover” or how you dress; it also includes your nonverbal cues and the vibes you give off. As with all the components of ACE, it is part of an integrated system. The energy you convey impacts your mind and your communications.
To physically condition for Signature Voice, you must identify and learn your physical cues—when you are in top shape and when your presence starts sliding. Physical cues are great indicators of your presence.
All leaders, especially more senior ones, have a ripple effect on the organization. Your energy sets the tone for your unit, department, or function.
To resonate with others, you need to manage how composed and expressive you are. Some situations require you lean toward one end of the spectrum or the other.
To manage your visibility, you need to identify a strategic network of people you should be in the physical presence of in an authentic, reciprocal way.
One of the hallmarks of Signature Voice is authenticity. By conditioning from the inside out, you can establish a voice that is effective and truly your own. When you become more competent in your voice for self and voice for others, you expand the possibilities of what you can achieve.
The key to effective leadership presence is not only the ability to attain it but to be aware enough to know when your presence is starting to slide. Circumstances change—new business requirements, new roles, new direct reports—and your presence must be flexible enough to change with them.
The more senior you become, the more often your role requires that you deliver organizational news, decisions, or policies that impact a significant magnitude of people. These moments present the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity for your leadership presence and your ability to be authentic and connect with others. Finding the alignment between yourself and the organization is a critical first step before you can motivate and inspire others.
With increased capability to influence and navigate a variety of situations and audiences, there is more room to ask bigger questions about purpose and vision. Authentic leadership presence emerges when you speak from a place of your most heartfelt beliefs and let purpose drive your achievements.