A business leader may have the education, the experience and the drive to successfully guide a company. Just as crucial — but perhaps not as well defined — is voice (and no, we don’t mean “voice” as in falsetto vs. baritone).
Voice in this case is an extension of the person. It’s their brand, their way of doing things, their expertise and how it is communicated. Those who show strong leadership skills often have developed this sense of voice throughout their careers. For those who haven’t, it may be time to examine it further. Here are a few ways to get started.
Determine your voice
It might sound strange, but leaders need to be familiar enough with their voices to know how they come across to peers, staff and clients. Their own personal set of values is directly connected to this, as Shana Starr writes for entrepreneur.com.
“Thought leaders have a strong, identifiable and distinct voice that sets them apart from others,” writes Starr. “Their voice is their brand and their audience knows exactly what they stand for and what to expect from them. Most important, they don’t stray from their brand identity and instead look for opportunities to make it even stronger. If you want to develop a strong voice and brand, ask yourself: What are my values? What do I stand for? What can I offer that isn’t obvious? What can people learn from me? Be clear and concise about your voice, your stances, your ideas and be sure that everything you do and say aligns with that.”
Look for inspiration
There’s no shame in admiring the qualities of others, whether it’s a family member, an industry leader, an iconic figure or a celebrity. Rachel Braun Scherl writes about this for inc.com.
“Observe them intently,” writes Scherl. “Have conversations with the people you have access to. For those whom you do not have access to, watch their public appearances and read their writing. Find them wherever they are: in business, politics, sports, TV, your neighborhood, on vacation. … Figure out what is about them, specifically, that draws you in. Note their confidence, their ability to build relationships, their network, their charisma, their intense knowledge of a particular area. Identify what intrigues you.”
All the important lessons learned throughout your career are a part of your professional voice. The decisions you’ve made, the wins and the losses — they help to make up who you are as a business leader. In an interview with The New York Times, Dara Richardson-Heron, chief executive of the Y.W.C.A., discussed how women in particular may view this.
“One of the things I see sometimes is that women mistake words for voice,” says Richardson-Heron.“They feel that because they have a seat at the table and they say something, that’s good. But it’s important for women to know that having a voice really means having a track record of success and accomplishments, so that people want to listen to what you have to say, because you’re saying something of value. So use your voice, but use it strategically.”
For those business leaders looking to evolve — especially those on the younger end of the workforce spectrum — it might be time for experimentation. Identify low-risk scenarios in which different approaches are feasible, Scherl says in her inc.com story.
“Try to make a decision with consensus, then in an authoritative tone and then one in the middle,” writes Scherl It will be immediately clear what ‘fits’ you. You don’t have to do this in a high-risk client situation or in front of venture capitalists who will determine your funding future. Try making a plan with friends, getting your children to do what you need them to do, or sitting on a nonprofit committee. Practice with your spouse, your friends, or your network. Just like building a business, this is a process. The earlier you are in your career, the more latitude you have to experiment. If you are already in the public eye with an established approach, it is much harder to make big changes.”