How to be human when communicating with senior leaders

How to be human when communicating with senior leaders

A couple of situations this week reminded me of the importance of differentiating between ‘content’ and ‘context’.

On the one hand I was listening to a fascinating podcast where Lex Fridman interviewed Yann Lecun, Chief AI Scientist at Meta about the abilities and limitations of AI.

On the other, I was reviewing communication to provide suggestions to participants from one of my corporate board paper writing programs.

What fascinated me here was that much of the communication I was reviewing was ‘content' that lacked ‘context'.

This bothered me because placing content in the right context is not only central to our uniqueness as humans, but essential if we want to engage senior decision makers.

And yet, I see teams frequently skipping this foundational step in the rush to finish their paper.

I get that thinking feels slow and that ‘writing' feels like ‘doing', but it reminds me of a comment made by an old boss of mine. “activity does not guarantee impact”.

With the right inputs, AI can deliver lots of content.

So far (!) we humans are the only ones that can take ‘content' and add ‘context' to have impact.

Let’s be human.

I hope that helps.

More soon.
Dav

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Has this happened to you?

You have an important presentation to make to a senior leadership group and a big chunk of the time is spent talking about ‘background’.

The leaders ask every question under the sun about the history of the program, what you have done in the past and you find yourself repeating your last five presentations.

You use precious face time with them looking backwards rather than looking forwards.

This has been a hot topic with my clients lately so I thought I'd share my number one strategy for avoiding this conundrum.

Here it is: Get straight to the point to make your audience curious about what you want to discuss.

There is a tendency to assume that leaders need all of the detail so they can understand your main point.

In my experience this has the opposite effect. Leaders don't know how these ideas are relevant and so interrupt with questions that seek clarification.

Instead, I encourage my clients to introduce their main message very early in the communication.

This then makes your audience curious about the things you want to discuss, rather than setting them up to take you on a guided rabbit hole tour.

When done well, this sets your audience up to ask questions that invite you to provide the necessary background information.

It puts it in the right context, lifts the quality of the discussion and reduces the risk that you will be sent back with more questions rather than the decision you need.

I hope that helps you keep your board on topic next time you present.
Regards, Davina


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TLDR: The answer is to provide less information and more insight around a specific point of view.

Do you ever worry about a lack of trust between you and your senior folk? Perhaps these are the sorts of things that happen when you present?

  • You receive more questions than answers, with the worst of these meetings feeling more like an inquisition than a conversation.
  • The discussion gets lost in rabbit holes than focusing on the main game.
  • You leave meetings without the clarity and decisions you need to get on with delivering value.

It is easy to feel that these behaviours point to a lack of trust.

While that may be true, the real question is what to do about it.

In my experience, the best solution is to avoid requests for more information by providing greater insight in the first place. Here’s how.

  • Take the time to understand what you really need to provide to the leaders in that specific interaction to drive progress. This requires deep thought about your commercial reality as well as about your stakeholders.
  • Focus every communication around one single powerful point of view, no matter how complex the material. If you can't say it in a sentence, you aren't ready to convey it.
  • Declutter your communication by only including items that support that point of view. This will be a forcing device to confirm your point of view is the right one and that you are focusing on what together you must deliver for the organisation.

This requires not only courage, but extreme clarity about what is really needed to get the outcome you need to drive progress.

Learn more about how to go about this by:

 I hope that helps, more soon.

Davina

PS – Can I ask a favour?

I need to lift my profile on LinkedIn so I can become a LinkedIn course creator. I need to triple my followers to reach their benchmark.

Here’s my link.

As part of this campaign, I’ll be posting more ideas on this platform too, so there will be something in it for you also.

Thanks so much!

 

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How often do you outline your desired outcome as follows:

I want the Board to approve my ABC strategy?


While this is a good place to start and most likely true in the general sense, it’s not sufficient.

A general statement like this does not set you up to truly understand your audience’s issues and concerns.

This in turn does not set you up to tell a story that resonates.

Instead, I encourage you to be more specific so you flush out the issues that you must address to get your strategy across the line. Here are the questions I ask:

  1. Strategy: What is distinctive about this strategy and its implementation?
  2. Situation around the strategy: Where does this strategy ‘sit’ within the broader organisation and industry ecosystem?
  3. Stakeholder attitudes: How will stakeholder histories and hot buttons impact your ability to ‘sell’ the strategy?


Answering these questions will help you define a much more nuanced ‘purpose’ that will in turn set you up to prepare a communication that gets you the outcome you need.

I hope that helps and look forward to having more ideas for you after the Christmas break.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – For deeper insight into what sits inside each of these questions as well as how and when to use them, register for the Clarity Hub.