In the last post, I introduced the essence of telling stories. We all have opportunities every day to make a difference by sharing our stories to lead, enhance trust and distinguish ourselves.
With this post, I want to continue on a similar trend on one of two topics that I have been wanting to write about for some time now. For some reason, each time I start this post, another topic somehow manages to sneak into my mind and before I know what is happening, an email about my experiences as a farmer boy is being sent off.
What is this tale that has been like an itch you need to scratch Ikenna?
I thought you would never ask. There have been many a lesson from this COVID-19 period. From the conspiracy theorists who imagine a world where aliens and governments want to control the world using 5G to a brave new world where people are learning how to stay away from one another. Among all these goings on, one thing caught my attention, how powerful speeches can be. You see, speeches are powerful however you look at them, either moving people towards you or can even be against you.
I don’t know if you have followed some of the speeches from different politicians the last months. Permit me to share some of the lessons I picked up from watching a few of them.
Andrew Cuomo had made multiple mistakes in the beginning of this COVID-19 pandemic. When the New York mayor suggested a lockdown of the city, Mr. governor rejected it outright, ridiculing the suggestion. Can you imagine suggesting to close down New York? Cuomo declared that this whole pandemic is nothing but another flu and he wasn’t going to scare people by shutting down the city. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he apparently put the elderly in harm’s way by getting them discharged from hospitals back to nursing homes.
Interestingly enough, all this was quickly swept under the carpet because of how Cuomo addressed the city in his daily broadcasts. To highlight some of the components of these sessions which turned this man into a public delight – honesty, truthfulness and vulnerability. I would like to discuss his vulnerability just a bit more.
It isn’t normal for a politician to admit having made a mistake. He realized that the approach as used by his team had failed to stem this virus in New York state. It reminds me of a meeting I had as a site manager with my manager and his entire team, where I admitted making a mistake in my role. I mention this because the HR manager who was present in this meeting came to me later to tell me that it is a sign of strength to dare in such a gathering to accept a mistake.
Looking away from the mistake, maybe you haven’t made any mistakes to admit, the other thing is showing your humanity. Using the example of Cuomo again, I watched the broadcast where he was talking about his brother testing positive for COVID-19. All of a sudden he begins to uuhhmm and aahhhm, because he is sharing a bit of himself and even his laughter feels forced. But the fact that he dared to share such news about himself and using his brother’s example to push the fact that people should be careful to prevent the elderly ones from getting infected.
Being a Nigerian, permit me to use a bad example here from the speech of President Buhari. To give you some background, for many years a unit of the police force – Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have been terrorizing individuals. Imagine a situation where as an individual you are not free to move around within your own country especially if you are young. These police officers were acting with impunity, arresting people for having a beard or owning technical gadgets. Some youths began a protest against this oppression and the police shot and killed many youths.
After more than 2 weeks of silence, the president agrees to address the nation. Where Cuomo was showing vulnerability, Buhari was displaying apathy or a lack of feeling with his audience. By telling the nation that they shouldn’t think he is weak by disbanding the police unit, he was effectively telling trying to show strength. By not acknowledging the deaths, he also showed a lack of empathy with the nation – effectively saying, ‘I don’t feel your pain’.
Here, you can see the effect of reading a prepared speech. Whenever you read a prepared speech, it is more difficult to show genuine empathy since those listening to you realize that your words are not coming from the heart. Of course as politician, they want to be careful of their words, but once you are using a prepared script, there is more work for you to do to keep the empathy and connection. Take the example of the PM of Netherlands, Mark Rutte – you can see him vocally and facially showing the emotions that go with his words. And they make room for questions which helps users connect better since they are going ‘off-script’.
No discussion on speech given by political leaders will be complete without mentioning Donald Trump. One of the first lessons which I learnt as a new manager is to give kudos to my team when things go well and take the heat away from them when things go wrong. A simple example – a member of my team came up with an idea to work extra hours for us to meet the demand from the market. When I spoke to my manager about it, I not only told him it was an idea from my team, but actually announced to him who came with the idea. In this way, the next time my manager was on the site, he complimented my team member which made him feel even more special and motivated him to come to me with more ideas in the future.
Well, clearly Trump and I didn’t go to the same school of leadership. Watching him give speeches during this period, all I thought to myself is, this man definitely wants everybody to think he alone comes with great ideas. There are so many examples where you hear the man simply telling you I, I, I, I, I. I called, I spoke with, I did that, I am the greatest. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with promoting yourself, nobody else will do it for you. However, as a leader, you are the one who needs to lift up your team – promote them instead of yourself.
Again, in the midst of a pandemic where people are looking for hope, it is not the time to campaign. When I was talking of Cuomo above, vulnerability for him was also in telling people the truth about how bad things were. Trump on the other hand kept saying there is no issue. This could be a way of giving people hope, however, your credibility as a speaker, as a leader is in being honest with people. By showing people that you are working hard at getting things working, they trust you enough to believe that there is hope.
These are but a few lessons from watching leaders address their nations in these uncertain times. For you as one who is on a journey to being a greater leader, the most important lesson remains that our words and how we speak them has the power to rally people alongside you. But it also has the power to make a bad situation worse.
My question to you today – what type of leader do you want to be?