We see political leaders that have been coached to appeal to the masses on television. They carry themselves erect (confident in the clothes, hair and makeup that their stylist has spent hours on). They smile warmly and expressively, acknowledging associates they recognize in the crowd (who may or may not exist). They speak with authority (having spent many hours listening to their own voice with the assistance of a coach). However, if you want to appeal as a leader that is actually present with a group of people, a different set of skills can make or break your ability to lead. You must be able to identify with the group you are speaking to and show that you are trustworthy and competent.
As a consultant, I recall seeing trainers who could charm upper level management struggle to communicate with engineers being trained for their first management position. The trainers spoke the language of emotional appeal, but forgot that their audience was composed of highly logical people. The audience of engineers wanted detailed specifics on how to deal with managing employees who were older than they, had been at the company longer and yet lacked skills in current technology. However, the trainers struggled with technology themselves, as public speaking was their area of excellence. A less engaging speaker who knew more about transitioning people to new technology would have had more connection with the audience.
In another instance I recall, human resource manager asked the audience what they thought the overall level of confidence in their management was. In this public meeting the raised hands indicated it was above normal. However, the anonymous surveys that had just been completed showed the opposite. People know their bosses expect them to respectful, but it is dangerous to assume this behavior is anything more than a social obligation. Leaders that are really connected are trustworthy. They can listen to complaints without recriminating.
Finally, I recall the upper level managers lined up in front of workers, answering questions fairly effectively until one worker asked about the effects lengthy down-time due to malfunctioning equipment. The manager who could have responded to this question was not present, and the others could have cared less. His mannerisms seemed cold and uncaring. However now as each one stared at the other, they desperately wished for his presence. Their embarrassment was not helped by the muffled laughter of a few in the audience. The other managers needed to acknowledge their dependence on this person, and keep open lines of communication with him, even though his style of leadership was not like theirs.
No matter how compelling a speaker, if he or she does not understand their audience’s view point, people seated in the same room can sense this disconnect. The audience will not buy what the speaker says. But leaders may never realize this if they have don’t make the effort to connect with and actually listen to the people.