Leaders: Compelling, Persuasive, Articulate – Forget That!

Leaders – Compelling, Articulate, Persuasive – Forget That


Think of leaders who were powerful communicators: there’s Lincoln’s simple elegance at Gettysburg, FDR on “nothing to fear,” JFK on “ask not what your country can do for you…” and Churchill exhorting England “Never, never, never give up.”  We think of Iacocoa on TV, or Reagan telling Gorbachev, “Tear down that wall.”  Just this month, British voters were surprised and moved by Liberal Party candidate Nick Clegg whose debating skills helped bring down Gordon Brown. We think of Steve Jobs’ brilliant technology talks and Warren Buffet’s convincing homespun speech.

Talk. Talk. Talk. 300 channels of tv talk.  Movies so full of surround sound – like Robin Hood I saw this weekend – and Black Eyes Peas thump-stuttering-truncating-Imabe – that it’s just too fast. A billion tweets a day. Txts on top of emails. “Know your brand. Stick to your message. Get your 20-second elevator pitch ready.”  Who the  heck has time to listen? Am I mirroring any kind of franticness and stimulus overload you feel on a Monday?

What if the most powerful leadership – from home, to shop or office, to city or even nation – comes from listening deeply and fully?  Perhaps what President Obama heard from President Karzai last week was more important for American foreign policy than what our President said to him.  If the job of a leader – whether she’s the boss or not – is to get the best out of others, doesn’t it stand to reason that how she listens may generate more knowledge and more buy-in than what she has to say? Maybe it’s less important to figure out what to say to your kids about their future, drugs, or grades, than how to listen to your kids about these and other topics that matter to them. Maybe heightened listening can take your staff and co-workers and boss to greater clarity, focus, and alignment.

So, why not begin the week considering the power of your listening.  And if you’d like to learn better how to listen powerfully, find some quiet time to listen to my show from Saturday.  I had tremendous expert guests who were all about – of all things – listening!  (That episode and a bunch of other great shows are easily accessible now directly from  my website.)

Listen to lead with your best self,


P.S.  As I was perusing great Churchill quotes I came across this great one for everyday leadership:  “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

  • I would call the statements you cited as compelling, persuasuve and articulate. It is extremely difficult to put complex ideas in simple words that people understand and accept. The wors quoted had much hisotry and public debate behind them. The leaders were reflecting back to the public what the public inherently knew. It is a rare point when leaders and the public can come to a clear undertanding and agreement.

    From my meager experience as a candidate for office, I learned that often people want to tell you some, be heard rather than ask you questions to see what the candidate thinks. There is considerable satisfaction that comes on their faces as they tell what they know, and contribute to the public discussion by telling a person running for office something, they believe is important.

    • Mark John,

      Nice points. I worked for Congressman Sander Levin for a while, and it was a delight to watch him engage citizens. He was deeply curious about their lives, their work and families, and how government was affecting them. He listened intently. He would also “push back” very directly when they wanted to tussle, but he listened.

      Many political folks are like this. Can it be manipulative? Yes. But often it’s quite genuine, and the result is that people feel heard and engaged – and often appreciate that the issues are more complex, or the tradeoffs are harder than they thought. It’s this engagement that keeps the democracy alive – despite, or especially in, these sound bite times.

      Thanks for your thoughts,


      • Great comments. As a national sales manager, I got the best advice for new additions to the product line by working with and LISTENING TO the reps in the field. They showed me and told me of competitors products that were flying off the shelves of our distributors. Listening to their input, I added new products to the line that immediately became top sellers, even though they had some of the highest margins in the product line.

        As GM of the company, most of the numerous efficiency improvements I instituted were not top down mandates, but came from my listening to the people who were best acquainted with the area in which they sought to improve efficiency. I found most workers want to make the company better, and if you listen to them, and implement their suggestions, the company wins with the improvement in efficiency, and the worker making the suggestion gains a higher self esteem and better work ethic. When others see this, it becomes a virtuous cycle.

  • Hi Dan As always nice to receive your message.

    What are your plans for January 20ll. Do you and your family plan to remain in Michigan? Hope so

    • John,
      Not sure what’s next for us. Committed to what’s here and now.
      We’ll have two daughters at UM and my whole family here, so it’s hard to imagine being far from the great state of Michigan!!!!

  • “Just Listen” are words we should tell ourselves often as Rachel Naomi Remen, MD says, “I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person
    is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps, the most important thing we ever give each
    other is our attention. And especially if it’s given from the heart. When people
    are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in.

    Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is
    even more important than understanding it. Most of us don’t value ourselves or
    our love enough to know this. It has taken me a long time to believe in the
    power of simply saying, “I’m so sorry,” when someone is in pain. And meaning it.”

  • As one your former debate trainees, I had to smile when I saw that headline. 😉

    Good post! Listening is done with more than ears. To really take in what someone is saying requires your whole self to be engaged. And you’re right, that’s not easy when the BlackBerry is dinging and the phone is ringing. But it’s nearly always rewarding.

      • Regina, but attended your summer workshop at UDHS with the Marian girls. I didn’t drive at the time and your coach (Rick) had to come all the way to the east side to get me that summer… ethos, pathos, logos.

  • Great post. Not only is it important to listen to what is being said, with one’s full attention, it’s just as important to “listen” to what isn’t being said. That also speaks volumes. As always, thanks Dan.

  • Thanks, Dan, for another great post. I would like to suggest that listening with full attention also suggests “listening with our eyes”. Body language speaks volumes and sometimes what is being said isn’t what is being conveyed.

  • Helena and Rosalie,
    Your points are on-point. And make clear that we have to be on point, on-the-dime, on our game. We think of listening as passive. Your comments about what’s not being said, and about body language speak to how much work good listening takes.

  • I suppose that if we really took “listening” seriously, we would not be posting? Just can’t resist saying that my current campaign slogan is “Born to listen; bound to speak.” All the readers and leaders here realize that listening also entails the responsibility to act upon what we learn by listening. I agree that time spent actively listening is both good for us and for those to whom we listen. Good things come from it.

  • Dan,

    As I grow older, my Mother’s wisdom increasingly comes back to guide and comfort me. Even as a small child, I was a “motor-mouth,” talking whenever another stopped to take a breath, and sometimes when they did not. She would quietly remind me that God provided me with two eyes, two ears, and ONE mouth. Maybe He was trying to tell me something?

    One of the great gifts to Grandparents is the opportunity to listen to our grandchildren. As I was raising my own children, I always had to much to say, so many rules to explain, so much of my self-proclaimed wisdom to impart, that I failed to listen carefully, and missed so very much. Now, I take the time to listen to my grandsons, and they love to come to our house, despite the lack of computer games or an XBOX, because we have the time to listen. It has been a revelation and a reprimand.

    My daughter taught me to “full-face listen.” My grandsons taught me to listen with ears, eyes, mind, and heart.

  • Hello Dan,

    I am currently organizing the “Save Our Youth” march in Jackson which is scheduled to kickoff on 07-10-2010. As you know, for the previous 3 years, I have organized the “Mentoring Awareness” march in Jackson, which I asked for you to be the keynote speaker in 2007.

    I shifted the purpose of the march this year to focus more on at risk youth and their issues. This year’s keynote speaker will be the Mayor elect of Jackson Karen Dunigan. The speaking panel will be a group of young boys and girls who will share with us things they want us to help make a difference in their lives; The adults will be listening and I will ask the adults to help come up with some solutions. After I do my acknowledgements, the emcee will play the “I Have A Dream speech” before we march to the Ella Sharpe park in Jackson, and be a part of the Human Relation Commission annual community picnic.

    Listening to our youth, and helping to find solutions, is the value of the Save Our Youth march I am organizing this year.

    Thomas K. Burke – Mentor

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