In his great new book Tell to Win, author Peter Gurber recounts a story told by Deepak Chopra, the highly regarded wellness expert. When Deepak was a child, his mother often shared the following saying: “There is the goddess of wisdom, and there is the goddess of wealth. If you pursue the goddess of wisdom, the goddess of wealth will become jealous and pursue you.”
Gurber goes on to describe how Deepak, following this mantra, built much personal wealth through sharing wisdom with a world wide audience.
The abundant aspect of the Character Triangle is lock step with this notion. The idea of giving generously of what is highly valued leads to more wealth in every way. Finding this value involves wisdom. Too often people are captured by the glitter of the wealth goddess and of course her repayment is often rejection and disappointment.
Character Move: Take stock. Which goddess are you pursuing?
I worked for a Fortune 50 company and reported directly to the Chairman and CEO. That company made an enormous investment in my personal development, including a comprehensive psychological and leadership review. The assessment was optional and granted only to a handful of candidates in a company of 60,000. Outside psychologists interviewed my parents, childhood friends, wife and children, my brother, former colleagues, superiors, colleagues, and all those that reported to me. I was also given a battery of psychological tests. The results all rolled up into a major debriefing and coaching process, fed by six large bound reports. I have all of them in my home study, a dusty box in the corner of my closet but forever in my head.
This last weekend, almost 20 years later, I reread a lot of the material. So what can I take from this experience and share with you? For the record, I found it gratifying to reflect on much of what the people said regarding my positive impact on the company. But, here is what the data says I could have done better:
First, I had a challenge which was described as “clarity” of my content. Frankly I was not always crisp and clear in my communication. Explaining things in simple terms was my lowest score. I sometimes made things too darn complex! Using buzz words and jargon was occasionally used a personal safety net.
And second, I sometimes had too many things going on at one time. My vision, impatience for progress, and creativity became shortcomings when too many ideas and initiatives were pushed in parallel. This can feel overwhelming to some. Others may view this behavior as impulsive.
So my message, although very personal, is to consider the following:
Seek out balanced feedback (strengths & shortcomings). People who care will tell us things in helpful ways. However, we have to be non-defensive and really listen. It can be difficult but will be ultimately rewarding.
Make complex issues simple. Be clear and direct. Use language that the people really get. Fuzzy communicating is not helpful. People take mental vacations when we communicate like that. Fight being a perfectionist.
Focus on what has the most leverage driving value for others. Less is often more. When we provide real value it’s because we’re listening and giving people what they really need, not what we think they need. This keeps us focused and more centered. It also keeps our egos in check.
Character Move: Make the complex simple and focus on the vital few. Find out how well you are doing that.
I have given a lot of thought about my communication skills and ways to improve them. Here’s what I wish I had understood early in my career. Effective communicating is almost ALL about CONNECTING and just a little about presenting.
1. Connect with the audience by “playing” for them more than you!
Every successful artist or entertainer knows this but it’s not talked about much in business. Here it is: when presenting, we have to be giving all that we have for our audience. They have to believe that we care about them and that our presentation is sincerely meaningful for them. Groups can sense when it’s more about you and what you have to sell. It’s not about how you sound, how flashy your PowerPoint is, etc. Whether around a lunch room or boardroom table, when we are given center stage our content has to connect to what matters to the listeners. It works better if the audience includes great listeners, but we are accountable for all aspects of the connection: from the subtleties of eye contact to the precision and clarity of language that makes them feel what you’re talking about. Whitney Johnson, a founding partner and president of Rose Park Advisers, shares a personal experience that reinforces this in a recent Harvard Business Review blog.
2. Paint a picture or tell a story so they feel the content not just hear it.
A large organization had an inefficient purchasing process, and one mid-level executive believed that money was constantly being wasted with each of the organization’s factories handling their own purchases. He thought there could be tremendous savings from consolidating the procurement effort. He put together a “business case” for change but it went nowhere. His boss said that senior executives didn’t feel it was truly a big problem, especially with so many other daily challenges taking up their time. So the manager had an idea: he collected the 424 different kinds of work gloves the factories collectively purchased and tagged each one with its different price and supplier. He carted the gloves in and dumped them on the boardroom table before a senior executive team meeting. He first showed the pile to his boss, who was taken aback by this powerful visual display of the waste inherent in having dozens of different factories negotiate different deals for the items they needed! The boss showed the CEO, who scrapped the meeting agenda to talk about procurement because what he was looking at was so memorable, so compelling, and so real. It galvanized the executives to action. Ultimately, they overhauled their procurement process and saved a great deal of money.
John Kotter’s blog has more on this point. Too many times in my life I’ve walked away from a meeting with the “they just don’t get it” attitude. The harsh truth is that I didn’t get the “it” to them. I didn’t put the “gloves on the table.”
Character Move: Remember that in being a great communicator Connection more than just content is King. When we have the stage, play for the crowd and think before hand what your “424 glove moment” is going to be.