Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Silence of Lions: Wisdom that Speaks

Leaders are lionized, the world over. They are cheered for every pronouncement and praised for every accomplishment. They are adored but also respected. They are feared but are also seen as protectors. Just as a lion strides as the undisputed leader of animal kingdom, leaders act as the lions that stride in corporate kingdoms. The physical presence of leaders evokes awe and respect even as digital technologies have vastly expanded their magical presence across borders and time zones. Leaders have one thing in common; they constantly articulate. They motivate, inspire and galvanize their organizations. The crowds they see constantly imbues them with even greater power to articulate. Whether it is the presidential primaries and election debates in the US or the great rallies of multiple leaders in the world’s greatest democracy called India, one can see how leaders are at their energetic best to sway the crowds.   

There are times when speeches become battle cries and when exhortations become frenzied roars. Roar is typically defined as a deep throated cry of a wild animal. It also refers to the racy zoom of an accelerating engine or a speeding vehicle. Roar has connotations of raw power. Many reasons are adduced as to why leaders ‘roar’. Firstly, they roar to unify their followers to one single mission; it could be electing a party in a democracy or toeing a ‘party line’ in a corporate setting. Secondly, they roar to emerge larger than life; the more they galvanize and electrify their followings the more they become iconic (not in all cases though!). Thirdly, leaders need to be heard in the face of occasional descent; the power of eloquent speech overcomes the suggestions of hesitant dissent, if any. Leadership roar becomes, over time, a theatrical accompaniment of leadership evolution, inspirational, evangelistic, opportunistic and narcissistic in its mix, the relative proportion varying from leader to leader.

Lore of roar

Leaders who dramatize their speeches become sort of leadership and communications folklore. Steve Ballmer, previous CEO of Microsoft was known for his theatrics on the stage as he made fiery and passionate speeches. It is a different matter that a mild mannered Satya Nadella has been able to change and make Microsoft more relevant, compared to the Ballmer times. While not all leaders are made the Ballmer way, many do make extensive use of body movements and raising of voice to lend strength and sharpness to their speeches. For some leaders, dignity and resonance of their voice comes naturally. In India, N T Rama Rao (NTR) who a legendary actor in Telugu cinema and rode to power in just 9 months after setting up a new political party in Andhra Pradesh was very much a lion that roared his way with the unmatched strength of his voice, body language and speech delivery. This is not to say that only roaring speeches make the sway. In NTR’s case, it is his movie base, including the unmatched stature in mythological roles, his novel poll promises aimed at the poor and indigent, and his corruption-free image combined to usher him in. It is beyond doubt, however, that the roar in his speeches projected effectively what all he represented and signified.

In the physical social world fiery, passionate and roaring speeches would continue to be the main connector and influencer. Magic of speeches is not permanent, however. While passionate speeches inspire the followers and sway non-followers, it is the action on ground that develops credibility. Every speech, doubtless, is made with a message and exhortation. More than the roar, the speech must appeal to the inner self in terms of logic, clarity and conviction, and its long term relevance. While in the corporate world presentations supplement or even substitute speeches, in the political and administrative world it is the personal, physical speechmaking that counts. The ability to speak is, therefore, the very essence of sustainable leadership. While the written word has the magic to move too, it is the speech that connects more intensely. The success of Robin Sharma, founder of Titan Academy, and a globally established leadership coach and author of creative books on leadership development, is related to his continuous speech making which is streamed on his website, and re-streamed on platforms like You Tube. 
Passion of persuasion

Roaring speeches are invariably passionate and make listeners also passionate. The effectiveness with which the listeners share the passion depends on the extent to which their minds and hearts stay connected with the speech maker. The speeches that that Gurus make whether Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Jaggi Vasudev or Baba Ramdev do not roar or race like a mighty waterfall but cruise like a tranquil river. Roaring speeches tend to make people to act, whether to vote or to execute. Tranquil speeches tend to make people think, reflect and change. Roaring speeches seek to transform people collectively without as much of individualized thinking that should ideally take place while tranquil speeches seek to change individual thinking in a collective setting as it must ideally happen. Roaring speeches impose and embed a line of thinking in the listeners with a boost of adrenalin while tranquil speeches develop and integrate a line of thinking in them with an interplay of persuasion and reflection.

Delivering a roaring speech or a tranquil speech is not one of a dynamic choice for a leader; it tends to be the very native or intrinsic characteristic of a leader. Whichever is the characteristic, leaders would do well to remember that persuasion needs to be at the core of the change or reinforcement, as the case may be. Leaders must not only be excited to make passionate speeches but be committed to be persuasive with their followers. When leaders are collectively present on a dais or in a forum, only those who can be passionate must be passionate and those who are tranquil or sedentary should keep to their style. Competitive speech-making by a collective group of leaders is a disaster in communications. On the other hand, sticking to their core characteristics and competencies by individual leaders in their respective speech-making provides greater collective impact. It is not about lionizing or prioritizing the leader; it is more about reflecting genuineness as a team.

Silent wisdom

With efflux of time, there must come an inflexion point when a lion can no longer roar. In today’s materialistic world, a silent lion is seen as a spent force. Given that the roar signals its own internal pride, inability to roar makes aged lions recluse. The case of roaring leaders is no different. When energy and strength desert, the hitherto dominatingly articulate leader becomes vulnerable, and eventually recluse, by his or her intent or others’. This is not a personal loss to the leader but a greater loss to the organizations and societies. One would, for example, wish stalwarts like Atalji continued to energize the political arena and Ratan Tata would be as articulate as ever in the corporate arena. Ideally, even when lions become silent their wisdom can, and must, speak for the larger good.

Forceful speakers would never have to regret that the ‘force’ would ever desert them so long as they build wisdom through the years. Force gets expressed through minor interactions, written communications, and even through silent presence. Indian mythology is replete with examples of wise sages who conveyed more through silent ‘dhyana’ (akin to meditation) than through vocal sermons. Those speakers who have spent their lifetime in delivering valuable content as opposed to mere speeches would automatically become the dhyana gurus whose wisdom speaks for itself despite their silence. Some of the greatest epics and songs of Indian culture have been conveyed through word of mouth propagation by the disciples who were moved by the content. In contemporary society as well, meaningful content would speak for itself, even long after the roaring voices fall silent.

When silence speaks

Effective speeches, in the final analysis, are not made of either roaring ferocity or energetic passion. Aggression and energy certainly carry the day for the speaker, and may even secure the desired outcomes from the teams but cannot leave lasting legacies without thematic content. It is not for no reason that the nuggets of wisdom in the speeches of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy have been preserved in, and for, the posterity. Voices of great leaders may have gone silent but their words have not. Such is the eternal power of content that has messages that last across generations. Nations, societies and organizations are moved less by mountains of words but are inspired more by succinct messages of lasting value. Nations, societies and organizations are also moved less by a leader who sounds and acts lofty and inimitable but are inspired more by one who feels like one of them.

The essence of a good speech lies in it being purposive, purposeful, creative, meaningful, logical, authentic, relevant, and, most importantly, executable. The role of the leader who develops and delivers the speech does not end with meeting the immediate objectives but begins with leaving lasting impressions. While energy, enthusiasm and passion make for a lively speech, it is important that the central message itself springs to life to the audience. It is not so much about how the speech has been delivered but what has been delivered as the central theme that impacts the listeners’ lives. This objective is best accomplished when the speech exemplifies genuine ownership of the problems as well as solutions and displays as much concern for changing the fortunes of the organisation as to improving the lives of the listeners. Wisdom dos not emerge magically when the roar fades; it gets accumulated and compounded over the years, and decades, to speak for itself when time comes!

Posted by Dr CB Rao on April 14, 2016

No comments: