I spend a great deal of my time advising people what to say as well as when and how to say it. Although I have been doing it for many years, every day I become more and more convinced that our words are our most under-utilized tool in changing our circumstances and controlling our destinies.
One of my most enjoyable roles as an executive is to model storytelling and work with leaders at every level of an organization as well as scientists, physicians, engineers, lawyers and frontline employees to cultivate their own stories about what they do and why it’s important. The ultimate goal is to build upon those stories to create a value proposition for the entire organization. Over the years I have taught students how to communicate with prospective employers, mentors and professors while also teaching executives how to communicate with important stakeholders whether they be reporters, investors, regulators, politicians, advocates or customers. Amazingly I have found that regardless of the target, talking is usually a last resort for most people – unless it’s centered on a complaint or an absolute last resort to deal with an issue or raise funding. Many would rather write an email or send a letter than have a face to face conversation. This hurdle becomes even bigger when challenging leaders to create an aspirational narrative about their vision, where they see the company going and the plan to get it there. The silent, gigantic elephant in the room is screaming, “what if we don’t hit those targets”, “we can’t guarantee we’ll make it” and on it goes. I find myself having to patiently describe the concept of “aspirational” over and over again throughout the process until we get it done. I do understand that standing in front of powerful stakeholders describing your vision and telling the aspirational story of how you’ll get there can be an unnerving experience. That is why it is imperative that the executives go through a process to tell the story in their own words and speak from their hearts – not just their heads. When they do, they are totally credible and convincing because they are articulating what they believe themselves and what in their heart of hearts they know is totally within the realm of possibility.
I always mandate that leaders tell the corporate story or long-term vision to the #1 stakeholders – employees – first. Winning the support and faith of the employees in the vision can fuel any leader to go out and not only win over every needed ally, partner and customer, but they’ll also have engaged employees and productivity to actually execute the plan and achieve the vision goal by goal.
Aspirational reluctance is magnified exponentially when people are challenged to discuss their personal hopes, dreams and goals for the future whether it be career, family or lifestyle.
But what would happen if you started using the valuable resource of your words to shape and define your life and everything in it. I once heard an executive coach talk about what he called our data. You know only too well about your data – “I’m too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too dark, too light, too smart, too dumb, too scared, too ugly, too pretty,” etc. The most interesting thing about data he pointed out is that people always want the opposite data of what they have! What if instead of rehearsing the past and all of your data you started talking about how you were going to use your talents, skills and gifts to positively impact your life and the lives of those around you? What if you started boldly declaring what shall be instead of just what is? Every day God gives you is another opportunity for excellence. It’s another opportunity to make a difference, to bring joy, to have fun – to overcome.
In my personal career development workshop I encourage students to make bold declarations. It is also the initial exercise I do with executives before they start talking about the company, talk about your own personal aspirations, who you are, why you do what you do. My next challenge is to have them tell me, what would you be doing if you had no fear?
Just imagine yourself saying this is what I want out of life and I’m going to get it. If the very thought of that makes your heart skip a beat, you need to start practicing saying some things. If you are going to live the life of your dreams, it is imperative that you develop your life narrative and “run with the vision” to make it become a reality. You should be so busy talking about the fulfillment and manifestation of your vision that the voices of doubt and fear can’t even get in. You shut them down with your bold declarations.
The hardest thing to do is to start something. But sometimes the only direction you’ll have is to get up, start talking and declaring some stuff. And you think, “Is that it? Surely I need to do something more than that.” But understand that your words are powerful. With your words you can give life to dreams and ideas and with your words you can kill dreams and ideas. What are you saying? What is the story you are telling yourself every day? What story are you allowing others to tell you every day?
Think about it! Then start talking about it. You can begin to speak into existence the things you most desire and you’ll begin to see a change. You have authority over your life and your destiny and you should not abdicate your position of authority to any negative voices.
That’s why, personally, I can’t stop pursuing excellence now. I have been blessed to have achieved some phenomenal dreams that should not have been realized by someone who became a foster child at the age of five years old, being put at the mercy of total strangers. But I had a foster mother who was one of the first special education certified in the state of Louisiana. Why? Because she believed every child could learn. And every day she told those students that. And every day they did learn, going on to graduate from high school against all odds.
She told me every time I brought home a report card with a B or, God forbid, a C: “Oh, a ‘B’ is good. But you’re an A student.” I heard that every six weeks and pretty soon I believed it. I acted like it. I expected it. I began to say it. And I became what I said. All the way through graduate school.
It is so wonderful and crucial to have even just one person who will encourage you in your vision and your potential. But even if you don’t, learn how to encourage yourself with your words!
I understand that I have to say it now when it doesn’t look like the dream is going to come true. I understand that I’ll quit if I don’t say it now – at the bleakest moment when I haven’t realized or felt any promise kicking inside me. When my dreams are distant memories. I have to say it until my spirit leaps for joy, until my enemies tremble in fear and until all opposition falls away. Say it! And achieve it!