Speaking When it is True, Helpful and Positive

This may date me a bit, but in high school, I remember the cheerleaders used megaphones so their cheers and chants projected loudly out into the stands for all the fans to hear.  Megaphones made their cheers and chants louder, resonating and reverberating throughout the stadium.  If you are a leader, you may not realize it, but you also speak with a megaphone.  What you say is magnified, the importance made higher and the issue or idea more critical because you are speaking from a position of authority.  This megaphone effect is a huge positive when you need to get a key point across to your team, communicate a change initiative, change behavior or communicate any type of key initiative.  The megaphone effect also has a downside to it.  You may make a comment unknowingly that resonates and reverberates throughout your team, sending them into a tizzy or actions you did not intend.  You may also vent or say something negative at the wrong time or place, or to the wrong people, and this negative comment is like a wake creating waves across the organization – your megaphone projects it loudly.  This is the main point of the 2nd Quarter Cameron-Brooks Career Tip.  As a leader, what you say is louder and more impactful than what you think, and you must be careful not to be negative because it effects those around you.

I had two recent experiences with the leadership megaphone effect.  Recently, on my return flight from Germany, I prepared to settle into my seat when a Captain of this specific airline riding as a passenger spoke with a working flight attendant.  They were discussing the recent merger for the airline and the pilot made a comment how he did not really care for the people from the other airline, and that he did not like the general population of people who lived around the hubs (TwinCities and Detroit) for that airline.  Because he was wearing his Captain’s uniform representing his company and I am a customer, he was speaking with a megaphone.  Being from Minnesota, he offended me because by wearing his uniform, he spoke loudly and clearly:  “I don’t care for people from the Twin Cities.”  He just alienated a customer.  If it were just two random passengers, that is par for the course on airplanes – people complaining.

My second experience occurred a few weeks ago when during a meeting I vented to my team about a key issue and change happening.  During the meeting, my team and I discussing a change that needed to be made, and I complained that I did not like it and gave a couple of reasons why.  Still today, I am embarrassed by what I said.  I let my guard down.  By being a leader in my organization, my comment was magnified!  I was completely out of line.  I should have raised my concerns and issues with the appropriate leaders in my organization, not with my team.

Shortly after I made this mistake, I read Mark Divine’s Blog Post, “Honorable Integrity” (http://www.sealfit.com/blog/marks-blog-honorable-integrity-2/).  Mark Divine is the author of several books to include recently, The Way of the Seal (which I have not read).  In the blog he writes, “It is to speak only if what you have to say is true, it is helpful (wise), and comes from a place of positivity (love).”  Once I read that, I knew I needed to reflect on this statement before I speak, and also share what I learned with others.

In the blog post, Divine mentions an instance where he did not share information with someone even though it was true because it would not have been helpful.  This is the key:  it requires all 3 criteria to really work.  Here is a personal example.  I just came home from work, my oldest daughter’s room was a disaster and I could barely see the carpet on the floor because it was covered with “stuff.”  Anyone looking at her room would see that it was true.  However, she just had a very hard week at school and was very proud of her exam scores.  Would this be helpful now?  Absolutely not, so I let it go.  Professionally, I have been in several meetings or been involved in a conversation with multiple people where someone made an error using a word or used the wrong name or date, yet everyone knew actually what he or she meant, and then someone corrected the person.  Why?  Sure, it was the truth, but it was not helpful or positive.  Another professional example where I did address an issue involved one of my team members who continually arrived late to work.  Obviously, since she arrived past 8:30, it was true.  The other team members started to resent her lateness, and it would be helpful to address it with her and would create a more positive work environment, so I addressed it with her in private.  I never mentioned my frustration with her tardiness with anyone else but her.

Divine states that “positivity” is one of the criteria and I had to take time to reflect on whether I agreed with that because frequently I address negative issues with people.  Then, when I read it again, I realized he did not mean avoiding confronting negative issues, but rather he meant to approach those types of conversations from a position of wanting a positive outcome and caring about the other person and organization.  This means that I can and should address behavior or performance that is negative as long as it is true and helpful, and I desire a positive outcome.

One might read this and feel that a leader cannot vent frustrations.  I argue that it is unreasonable to ask a leader to keep frustrations bottled up.   Understanding that a leader is human too, though always being watched means that he/she must vent appropriately.  The appropriate way to vent is in private with people who can listen objectively and where it will not impact their perception of others, the organization, customers, etc.  There might be some peers or an occasional supervisor at work who can do this, but without knowing each individual situation, I offer caution here.  I recommend finding confidants outside of the workplace who know you well and can provide professional advice, and if your spouse allows you, he or she can also be a good person with whom to share frustrations.   Be careful though:  some frustrations and issues need to be addressed with people directly and professionally.  You will need to make a decision whether or not to raise an issue with a boss, peer or customer.  For this I recommend following the tips in Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations by Patterson, Kerry, Grenny, Joseph, McMillan, Ron, and Switzler.  Those lessons will be for a later career tip or blog post

I sincerely appreciate learning from Divine’s blog.  I had already learned the valuable lesson that I was speaking with a megaphone.  Now with understanding the relationship of speaking when it is True, Helpful and from a place of Positivity I will be a better leader and more careful of what comes out of that megaphone.

Book RecommendationSeveral Cameron-Brooks Alumni and candidates recommend Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek.  Sinek explains that many organizations are more innovative, influential, profitable and successful because they know “why” behind what they do.  According to Sinek, too many leaders and companies focus on “what” they do and “how” they do it rather than their “why” or purpose.  You can also watch his TED talk at http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.