Imagine. It’s three years since you took over the reins of the company. And you are planning a meeting to address the entire organization. What should you say – or not say – to make sure you rally the troops, inspire confidence, and reassure the team that the organization is indeed on the right track and making progress?
Well, here then are five tips to help leaders nail their next town hall address.
1. “It’s not about me. It’s about them!” Remember that. Resist the temptation to make your speech all about you, about what you did, and your heroics. Instead, focus on the employees, on the organization. Tell them how they are now in a better place. Talk about why every employee has reason to feel good about her or his future. And talk about the contribution other people and other leaders have made to help the organization win. You don’t have to bother about taking credit. If you don’t try too hard for it, they’ll happily give it to you anyway. Don’t make your speech a report card of your performance. Make it a progress report of their progress.
2. Be vulnerable. Vulnerability builds trust. Every speech, every interaction, is an opportunity to build trust. Or to destroy it. And saying ‘Trust me’ is a very poor way of trying to build trust. Instead, be vulnerable. Say you are no superman. Get comfortable talking about a weakness or a failure. It’s amazing how acknowledging a failure makes all the other achievements more believable. People will begin to see you as real, as a human being. And trust will grow. When you have the courage to say you are not perfect, people see your strengths. Tell them you know it all, and can do it all, and they begin to look for chinks. Don’t build a façade of perfection. Build a window of vulnerability instead.
3. Some of us were here long before you came in. You might want to talk about all the changes in the three years since you moved in to the corner office. And you might want to contrast what’s happening now with the bad old days. Tread carefully. Remember, some of the folks who’ve helped you create the wonderful present were also around before you came in. Don’t make them feel they were up to nothing, or were doing everything wrong before you came in. It hurts. Remember, our world, our lives, didn’t begin the day you came in as our leader. Acknowledge that there was some good, we were trying our best – and are now getting better. Ah, that feels better already!
4. Don’t just speak to your supporters. Acknowledge the disbelievers and fence-sitters too. As a new leader, you probably sought out allies, the believers who quickly aligned with you to drive change. That’s ok. Every leader needs a few early adopters. But as you now stand in front of the organization, don’t speak to only those folks nodding their heads in agreement. Think of this as a chance to win over the entire organization. A new leader can initiate change with the support of a few people, but if progress is to be sustainable, if a new culture needs to be created, you need the entire rank and file to buy in. When you see disbelievers as your enemies, you start to disregard them. You ignore them. And that widens the divide. Instead, remind yourself that you are not the only one worried about the business. They care too. Maybe they just think there’s another way to achieve our goals. Are you even willing to look into their eyes?
5. Inspire hope. We all live for a better tomorrow. We want to create a better world. For ourselves, and for our children. Amidst the challenges and the miseries and the hits and the misses, we all want to believe that our world will be a better place. Irrespective of where we may have come from. Don’t just tell us how far we’ve come. Show us where we are going!
These tips will hopefully help you nail your next town hall address – notwithstanding whether you are the head of a small team, or the leader of a large organization. Or even the leader of a country! Go for it!