16.01.2021: Blog |
Several folks in my circle have commented on and or asked questions about my more vocal public persona over the last few months. There is a compelling business reason for doing so. We are building a community of technology executives for the Handshakr launch first and foremost, but there’s also a personal reason behind the uptick.
At the end of 2019, I decided that I wanted to improve my skillsets, to up my game, so to speak. It started with asking myself the right questions, not an easy task at the best of times. So much good comes from asking good questions, so it takes a little bit of time to nail down a good one. But after a great holiday that allowed me time to think, I ended up with the question that could help me start the process of improvement. How do I become a more effective, impactful and successful business leader?
To put this question into context, I had just Founded Handshakr, and I am by default going to be the CEO, I started the thing, it’s my vision, my baby, it’s the thing to do, right? Right. OK, I am a technology startup Founder, a new CEO. What are the skills that will give me the most “bang for my buck?” Whatever I chose, I had to lean on my current strengths and be realistic in that you can’t become a Tim Cook of Apple Inc. fame overnight.
I decided I should focus on communication, it is the best answer to both the first and second question in my view, without a doubt. It is the most powerful tool we have as humans. It comes in many forms, and all are nuanced and highly potent if used correctly.
Effective and clear communications are central to political, military and corporate worlds. If I can improve my comms, it will probably serve me well for the rest of my business and life. It also dawns on me that my career in sales to date should mean I have a baseline of expertise too. I am ticking all my boxes here.
How might I improve my written and oral communication? This was my next question and seemed far harder to answer than it should be. Still, I concluded that my best course of action would be to combine my new mission to improve my communications with my day to day business activities as a startup CEO. There would be trial and error, and it would all be public, but ultimately the positives outweighed the negatives.
The plan and the practices
My plan involved three key areas of communication practice that I see as crucial to any endeavour:
Spending more time and effort on listening, digesting and understanding people more intently when they speak and write to me. I have always been a good listener, but I think there is always room for improvement. This is probably the most arduous and arguably the most powerful of the three areas I highlight here.
If the data going in isn’t right, your output certainly won’t be correct. I have found learning and practising active listening techniques have made a difference; my gut feel is that I am less inclined to talk and offer advice when others are speaking since starting the journey.
However, I do feel this will be a lifelong pursuit and still could be better. Some practical things I’ve done to help here were to take a great course on negotiation with the Black Swan Group after reading Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference, the course is highly focused on your ability to listen and tactically empathise when engaging, cool stuff when you start getting into the details. And then I also made a point of reminding myself with written prompts/post-its stuck to my laptop and Mac that say “LISTEN & EARS” advising myself not to speak so often. 🙂
Finding a way to write more, without fear of judgement and opinions and practising clear and concise written messaging. I find writing these kinds of articles on Linkedin, and now these blog posts incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t consider myself a great writer, but I think I have improved, and I will continue to do these to practise my written communication.
There are some great ways to help you with your writing and just between us friends you should look at the Grammarly software plugin. The software is a bit like spell checker but much more in that it helps with tone and word choices based on what and whom you are writing for. It has helped me immensely with composition but still makes sure I am dotting my eyes and crossing my tees. Oops. 🙂
Finding an outlet that allows me to converse and more importantly ask better questions. My day to day job entails many calls, video conferences, presentations and demos and one day soon much more face to face interaction. All of this means I have to talk a lot. It means I have to ask good questions at the right time. I have always been able to open people up, my job for the last twenty years has been to find opportunity, which really boils down to empathy and questioning. But like most skills, they fade if not trained or practised. Our new Handshakr Huddle podcast was an ideal opportunity to commit to a weekly discussion with fascinating people. Still, these talks need driving in the right direction, fundamentally that need compelling lines of questioning. I really enjoy the conversations, and I am keen to become a better interviewer through the weekly practice.
It is fortunate that my new venture offers me the ability to practice all of these things every single day, but I am not finished yet, there’s no exam at the end of the year, this is ongoing. I set out to improve, and I think I have done that, but there’s still so much room to get better.
I hope you are enjoying what we’re putting out there and you are always welcome to give me your feedback. I’ll leave you with a couple of pertinent quotes;
“I believe the quality of our lives are determined by the people we meet, the books we read, and the questions we ask.” David Denotoris
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”