A Leader’s Relatability: Does Your Message Sound Too Scripted And Polished

Leadership Lesson: In order to avoid sounding too scripted and unnatural, a leader should tap into and refine their self-awareness when conveying the message of their mission, intentions, and plans.

The basis for this post was a conversation I had with a colleague a few years ago in the thick of the last presidential election, when Hillary Clinton was battling Donald Trump, specifically, in the final debates leading up to the 2016 election.

My colleague made it known they didn’t like Hillary Clinton. That aside from and in addition to the typical reasons people found Clinton unpalatable, they found her to be too polished, leading her to seem too scripted, a by-product of being overprepared. There was nothing natural, so she seemed too manufactured.

My colleague’s comments about Clinton really drove home a major problem leaders encounter: lacking authenticity.

And you’ve probably heard it said: If a leader lacks authenticity, they will also lack followers. Their relatability evaporates.

And if a politician lacks relatability, they’ve lost their connection to their audience and voters.

Those types of manufactured leaders and politicians tend to say what they believe they’re supposed to say, play a role they believe they’re supposed to play, and erect a façade they believe they’re supposed to reflect, one of manufactured control, poise, and power.

And because of that robotic approach, their people may not feel connected to that leader or their message, leading to a drifting in the organizational and team mentality away from a core of connection.

Although I had intended to write a post on my thoughts and interpretation of that idea at the time, I never did. I think I didn’t write it down or flesh it out because, honestly, I was over the bullshit and toxicity of that election season. I guess there was really no urgency, because, besides those two candidates, I didn’t see too many public examples of strictly robotic interactions and responses from people who are vying for leadership positions.

Until now.

Well, specifically, until last night, when I watched the second leg of the 2019 Democratic debates for the 2020 Presidential Election. (Yes, second leg! 10 people a night, over two nights. This is amazing – that people in this group, this caucus and party, couldn’t meet and decide whom it is that has the best chance to win the presidency. Yes, I know that’s not the way it works, but it’s ridiculous. If they feel beating the incumbent is so urgent, they shouldn’t let their ego get in the way. But, I digress. Anyway…)

Participants in this particular night’s cohort included former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Kamala Harris, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, among others.

In having watched the debate, and keeping previous political debates, town halls, and interviews from past years in mind, there are lessons we can all take away regarding authenticity.

Here are some considerations leaders should take when conveying the ideas they want to share that they believe will set them apart from the pack.

What Are You Saying?

Make sure you understand the issue you’re covering. No, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an expert in it. You don’t have to propose a perfect plan. But respect the topic enough to have a working knowledge of it and what some truly viable options are for resolution.

Leaders don’t need to have all the answers, but they do have to demonstrate that they, at the very least, respect the topic and are curious enough to avoid wasting everyone’s time who is involved with mis- — or lack of – information.

What Has A Topic’s Narrative Been To Date?

Consider how the message you’re sharing has been covered by others. Understand how many times your message has been shared in the past. Be familiar with the scope, breadth, and depth of the past conversations surrounding the topic at hand. This, again, shows you will consider the importance of the topic by understanding its history. That you’re not just studying a white paper and repeating the same old tired words and ideas.

Leaders need to understand the nature of an issue – how rich, deep, and emotional its history can be.

How Do Your Thoughts Show You’re Different From The Pack?

Also, consider how you view the topic differently from the pack. What do you see through your own individual, unique lens that no one else sees in the issue covered? How have you sought out different information and viewpoints on the topic? How have you widened the net of understanding to capture all those committed to and impacted by the topic? Consider how you view it differently, in order to bring some fresh perspectives, angles, and ideas to the table.

Leaders need to understand how they view ideas differently than their predecessors and opponents. It sounds like common sense, but it’s a leader’s little nuances that set them apart.

How Can You Word It Differently?

Building off of thinking about it differently, how do you word your positions differently? No one can read your thoughts. You may have the best of intentions for the topic at hand and the people impacted by it, but if you don’t have a good grasp on how to communicate that idea to both the stakeholders and those within earshot, your messaging will get lost.

Leaders need to convey their ideas on topics in a way and with words that break down the topic differently, in order to stand out from others.

Beyond these points above, when it comes to the debate last night, the ones who stood out to me — and this is just my take — stood out for various reasons.

They Worked To Make Their Point

There are certain instances where someone may assume you should know what they’re talking about, and that it bears no repeating to go into detail, or to show urgency about what it is that’s being discussed. They’re way too comfortable. There’s almost a sense of entitlement.

They Didn’t Get Emotional For Emotion’s Sake

They weren’t yelling. Me, specifically, I don’t want a leader who feels they need to get angry or loud for the performance’s sake. (And you can typically tell the difference between when it’s that effect they’re going for and when it’s a genuine feeling.) I prefer someone who can tame their greater emotions and break down their side or argument point by point.

They DO Show SOME Emotions Beside The Facts

That being said it’s important to show emotion. But leaders should balance their emotions. It’s important for me to know that the person who wants to lead can feel some emotion about the mission at hand yet not be blinded by that emotion. That they understand what can be at stake – and maybe not even for themselves, but for those with whom they might not have too much in common. That they understand the position of others — their constituents, or those they would or do represent.

Related: How Far Can Your Empathy and Understanding Take You?

Although this is what stood out to me, every one of us should make sure that what we’re being fed and shown is not cookie cutter.

We need to make sure it’s not too formulaic, and that a leader knows there’s more to solving problems than receiving a breakdown of what the issue is, or hearing regurgitated talking points, from a policy communications checklist.

Here are just some expectations we should all have of our leaders:

  • They should know what they’re getting into.
  • They should respect the issue’s importance.
  • They should respect other people’s time.
  • They should know what is at stake for other people, especially those with whom they have minimal in common.
  • They should be ready to fight, but not so much that they have to tear down others.
  • They need to make the case for why they’re TRULY the right person for the job, and not just the latest person with the same old tired lines.

In watching politics, we can see both life-long politicians and political newcomers tend to convey the same safe, stable soundbites and messages repeatedly.

Scripted, robotic, and predictable speeches are given in the hopes that through one speech or another, the right listener will be attracted based on their own frustration with the opposing option.

We all need to deliver more. We all need to expect more.

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