“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
– Albert Einstein
I heard Herminia Ibarra, a Yale-educated Ph.D. in organizational behavior, talk about the value of saying it out loud. Or saying it to somebody who you’re not that close to. She meant that by having to explain it to somebody who doesn’t know you so well, or by having to say it out loud so it sounds like it makes sense to you – then you can better figure out your story.
I sat up straight and thought to myself (I may have even uttered it aloud), “YES!”
You see. I talk to myself. Often. If not daily, almost daily. I’ve done it all my life and this is exactly why.
To figure things out.
I know firsthand the power of saying things out loud. After all, I was doing long before podcasting was invented. In the late 90s, I began recording some thoughts under the banner, Leaning Toward Wisdom, largely as an effort to figure things out aloud. I talked into a microphone, recorded it, and uploaded it to the Internet.
Now that I’ve been doing it for a few decades I can affirm the value of saying things out loud. It can help you clarify things while helping those who may hear you say it out loud better understand. And if they fail to understand, it can provide us with opportunities to say it better – more clearly. After all, understanding is the goal.
We want to better understand and we want others to better understand, too. It sure beats misunderstanding. But if you’re a subscriber to our show you already know the final leadership recipe ingredient is compassion, which can only result when we understand. Otherwise, judgment reigns supreme. And it’s most often critical judgment.
Writing To Figure Things Out
I am a lifelong letter writer. Today, it’s such an old-school way to go, but I still do it on special occasions. Like to my wife on her birthday or our anniversary. When we started dating we were both 18. We lived hours away from each other, working and going to college. We wrote letters every day. I’ve long maintained that all that writing helped us figure ourselves out – individually and together. There’s value in pouring out your heart, reviewing what’s happening in your life and all the other things we did trying to convey our thoughts with each other. And putting it on paper (literally) helped us distill it all. We were figuring it out.
For me, and I’ve since learned – for others, writing and thinking are connected. Saying it out loud – writing it – helps us think. I’ve written for as long as I can remember so I confess I have a positive bias for the activity. But in adulthood I learned how common is it for people who are attempting to figure something out write. People may erroneously think that we write to convey that we have it already figured out. But there seems to be some truth that it doesn’t quite work that way. Rather, more often than not people write while thinking. We write while we’re figuring it out. Saying it out loud – or on paper or a screen – helps us think about it more deeply. Hopefully, more clearly.
So I began to think about the difference in how we write.
There’s writing for reading and there’s writing for speaking. They may be the same. Maybe not.
For example, we commonly use contractions like I’m, we’ve, and don’t when we speak. But we likely write out “I am,” or “we have,” or “do not.” They mean the same thing, but they sound differently. Then there are times when we write it, but when we read it…even we don’t understand what we wrote.
We can write entire paragraphs or pages thinking we’re making complete sense, but when we go back and read what we’ve written discover we’ve left out a verb here, used the wrong tense there and written in passive voice all over the place. Not until we say it out loud do we realize the brilliance we thought we were writing is jibberish.
Writing is great. Saying it out loud is even better because we know if we’re making sense or not. Then the editing can continue while we refine our thoughts – and our ability to accurately convey our thoughts.
This is all about figuring it out. Our leadership journey can be summed up in that activity. We’re not all on the same path, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another and remain committed to our own growth. Improvement is the goal. Finding a way forward to our better self.
I’m often asked how I formed my own notions of leadership. It’s a complex thing I suppose because each of us are a distillation of who we innately are coupled with all the experiences we have with a major sprinkling of how we see the world – and our place in it. Then pile on top of that our natural abilities and interests. That’s why leadership isn’t a precise science where one-size-fits-all.
However, our leadership recipe is in play because since I was 27 I figured out these ingredients were vital to all the effective leadership I experienced, including my own. No matter the style or personality, these five ingredients — humility, curiosity, knowledge, understanding and compassion – were always present in some measure. I spent my professional leadership life testing them. Putting pressure on each of them. Proving them. They never failed.
And they were all adaptable to the way people rolled. Personalities didn’t matter. Backgrounds either. Or communication styles. To each her own.
It was through writing (and thinking) and saying it out loud that I was able to discover that leadership is very unique for each of us. That’s why it’s urgent for each of us to get on the journey as quickly as possible so we can learn how to leverage our uniqueness to grow great – and help others grow, too.
If We Can Serve Others…Shouldn’t We?
Yes. We should.
And serving others often means we need to say things out loud directly to them. It’s how we express our love for our family. It’s how we express our sorrow to those who grieve. It’s how we encourage those who may be struggling. It’s how we correct those who may not know they did something wrong. It’s how we elevate performance – when we express it and when we allows others to express it to us.
If a tree falls in the forest we can wonder if it makes a sound unless somebody is present to hear it. But a more practical thought is if we’re able to help somebody how can we do that if we’re not willing to say it out loud to them?
Could you have learned anything from a school teacher who didn’t speak to you?
Could you have improved and learned from your first (or any other) boss if they had never said anything to you?
Here’s my challenge to you – prove me wrong…
Try to improve without thinking about – writing and saying out loud – how YOU can improve yourself.
Try to help others improve without communicating, as directly as possible, with those you’re trying to help grow.
Leadership is still about:
• Focusing on others (after we focus on our own improvement — which never stops, btw)
• Doing for others what they’re unable to do for themselves
Be well. Do good. Grow great!
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