Just as it does on an airplane, turbulence within a company can cause everyone distress or even panic. In her new book, Turbulence: Leadership’s Unsexy Solution to Streamline Rapid Growth, Monique Maley tells leaders that more often than they think, the turbulence is actually coming from them. Usually, that’s just the result of poor communication.
On Author Hour today, she shares advice around clarity and credibility, explains some of the common mistakes companies make when attracting and onboarding new talent, invites us to rethink how we approach conflict and even how we define that word.
Hi, Author Hour listeners, I’m here today with Monique Maley, author of Turbulence: Leadership’s Unsexy Solution to Streamline Rapid Growth.
Monique, thank you so much for being with us today.
Monique Maley: Thank you so much for having me.
Jane Stogdill: Can we start out just by hearing a little bit about who you are and how this book came to be?
Monique Maley: Sure. I have a company called Articulate Persuasion and for the last 11 years, I’ve been working with leaders across verticals in helping them become more influential and credible. What I have always found in my coaching and consulting at the core of the challenges that they were having were fundamentally around communication or miscommunication or in some situations, the lack of communication.
That is really the foundation of my work and subsequently, the foundation of the book. I really wanted to write the book because, if every leader could improve just in one of these areas that I touch on in the book, then the effect on their business and especially on their teams, the individuals, within their organizations and then ultimately wit their own leadership is really profound and I wanted to try and reach more people than I’ll ever be able to reach working one-on-one.
Be Intentional and Communicate What You Mean
Jane Stogdill: Why is it so difficult for leaders to communicate effectively?
Monique Maley: Well, that’s a complicated question but so fundamental, isn’t it? I think that the first main thing— and this is especially true in today’s world, where things are moving so fast— people just don’t slow down long enough to really think about it. They show up to a meeting, they get on a call, they have a conversation without thinking through what they really need to say, what they’re really trying to achieve.
People jump from meeting to meeting, they’re bringing ideas, thoughts, energies from the last meeting into the new meeting or they’re in one meeting and they already sort of have their brain on another meeting. How we engage, how we communicate, word choice, energy, body language, all of those things can completely upend what we are really wanting to say or what we’re really needing to convey.
The first big challenge is getting people to realize the importance of taking the time to actually think through who you’re talking to, what your message is, and what you want to achieve. But time is the most limited resource, I think even more than capital. It’s never on anybody’s to-do list and that is where the danger lies.
Jane Stogdill: Yeah, we tend to think we’ve communicated effectively in our own heads but it’s hard to know whether or not it’s landed.
Monique Maley: Exactly. I think, what we think of in our own heads— I think even this is in the book, I think it made it through the edits which is— what you’re thinking in your own head always sounds good in your own head, much like singing in the shower always sounds good. It doesn’t sound the same to people who are in the next room listening to you sing in the shower. I think it’s really important to remember that thinking something in your head is not the same as how it comes across.
Oftentimes, you’ll even hear people say, “Oh, I didn’t mean it to come out that way” and that’s where that not having taken the time to really be intentional about their messaging can really get in the way.
Jane Stogdill: That’s a good analogy. Now, also I’ve learned something about probably how my husband feels about my singing. Okay, the book takes readers through several different areas where leaders might be having communication problems and is filled with advice about how to improve that scenario if it’s happening. I’d love to just kind of chat a little bit about each of them.
First of all, where do we get in trouble with communication and conversations? What are some tips for leaders to help them in those situations?
Monique Maley: Well, I started the book with conversations because really, everything is a conversation. When we’re going through decision making, we may be looking at data but we’re really having a conversation with ourselves and thinking through a process, taking in all the information, advice, data points, whatever and we’re having a conversation with ourselves. As we go through our day, you start counting how many conversations you actually have in the course of the day— even if you’re back in an office and you’re just walking down the hall.
There’s small interactions, there’s small conversations. These are littered throughout our workday. I started with conversations because really, they are the foundation and they are the most common vehicles for communication. It’s some sort of exchange of information. Sometimes it’s an email conversation or Slack conversation or an in-person conversation. Because we do them so frequently during the day and we’re jumping back and forth between things, it is the most common area where we don’t think about being a bit more present, being a bit more intentional about these things.
I also find that people don’t think about the conversations that they have with themselves. The issues that can arise from that are often anything. From imposter syndrome [which] is really just you having a conversation with yourself that is creating a narrative which is not a real narrative. It’s an impression or a sense but somehow in your own mind, you’re telling yourself that this is not where I belong or something of that nature and then suddenly, the follow-on effect of that internal dialog is just going to undermine so much of what you want to achieve as a leader.
That’s why I think it’s so important to start with. If you can make a shift about being intentional of every conversation you’re in, every time you give feedback, it’s conversation. If you pick up the phone, it’s a conversation. Thinking through how to have those conversations in a way that helps you achieve whatever your goal is, that also is something that the person/persons that you are speaking to can really hear what you’re having to say. We have to tailor our messaging, depending on who we are talking to. If we can think through that, how do I convey this message, to this individual so that I can achieve this goal?
Sometimes that’s just taking three minutes to think through that but at the foundation, everything is a conversation which is why I started that book with that.
Jane Stogdill: Okay, great, thank you. Then, that leads us into the next chapter. What sort of problems do leaders tend to run into when it comes to clarity?
Monique Maley: Well, with clarity, the biggest problem is that people think they are clear. “I was really clear!” Well, if somebody doesn’t think it’s clear then really… The onus is on us to make sure that other people think it’s clear. Oftentimes, we know exactly what we mean but when we say it to someone else, they may not understand us. We go through our day, thinking we’re crystal clear when really, we’re as clear as mud.
Again, really taking time around the power of word choices. I know that sounds a bit geeky but it can be incredibly powerful and can make your job and your day so much easier if you go into that. I work with a lot of startup entrepreneurs, founders and it’s very common for example that they cannot articulate their vision clearly, where they’re ultimately taking the company.
Now, sometimes I find that the reason why their vision isn’t clear is because they actually aren’t clear themselves and of course, if it’s not clear to me, I can’t make it clear to you. The first thing we have to do when I work with clients is help them really clarify it for themselves.
What is this vision? How can I talk about it in a way so that if I were to just describe this destination to someone, they would understand exactly where this journey is going to take them? That’s an incredibly powerful tool. That’s the way you can ignite and inspire a team. That’s how you get new hires to really want to jump in and do something, This is how you get investors to jump on board with your vision and invest in your business. That kind of clarity is so important.
Credibility Derives From One’s Authenticity
Jane Stogdill: What role does credibility play? How do leaders unknowingly undermine their credibility?
Monique Maley: What I often really think about with credibility has a lot to do with what’s often referred to as executive presence or leadership presence. Because with communication, what we say is definitely a part of how we communicate. It’s one of the tools of communication, however, body language and tone are so much more important.
Because we can say all the right things but if our body language does not support that or if our tone does not support that, then it really doesn’t matter what we say. We often see this with politicians, they say one thing but our sense as a viewer is that they’re being inauthentic, they’re not being true, they’re not comfortable with what they’re saying, they sound like they’re lying, whatever we may think of.
When we think about credibility we have to put all the parts together, which is this internal dialog that what we believe about ourselves— which is important because then it’s this external, how can we support what we believe about ourselves and how we talk about ourselves with an executive presence which is truly authentic and supports us?
Because if we’re trying to be like someone else, that’s not going to be authentic, that will undermine us. If we are trying to, what is that phrase that people say, “fake it till they make it”. I’m not really a fan of that school of thought. I think you need to show up as who you truly are and leverage your best skills and that is where credibility comes from.
I’m not credible because I am like anybody else. I am credible because I’m true to who I am, I know what I’m good at, and I’m able to communicate that and articulate that in a way that other people can understand. That, I think at the foundation is what underpins credibility.
Jane Stogdill: I mean, it seems like, business leaders ought to be taking classes in college and communication and writing in the humanities but, I imagine that’s also where you come in for those who haven’t.
Monique Maley: I know I’m happy for people to go take classes. It would be amazing if this was taught because it is so fundamental. It really doesn’t matter what level of an organization you find yourself, it doesn’t matter what industry you are in, you’re going to have to communicate with people. I don’t care if you are sitting in a backroom doing numbers at some point, you’re going to have to engage with other people and be clear.
Yes, I would love that and I’m a big believer that the humanities are an amazing foundation. For me, it’s definitely my foundation. I had started working and training almost simultaneously as an actor from the time I was eight and I went to drama school in the UK. What I realized is what an incredible tool kit that has provided me because as an actor you study text what people say but you also study subtext.
Yeah, I may be saying this but really what I’m meaning is something else, so how do I let the audience know that I’m not really meaning what I’m saying? Where does the body language come into that? Where does the tone come into that? Where does the side glance or rolling of the eyes play into all of that? I’m always a firm believer that all of the humanities is a great foundation for this but no, it’s not tied. It’s what’s called a soft skill.
Let’s face it, the reality is that people want hard skills. But hard skills you can learn. If you work hard and you’re bright, you can learn hard skills much more quickly than soft skills because soft skills just take time and practice. They’re like muscles you need to build. It is like going to the gym, you can’t go once, be shown how to do it, and then boom, you got it.
Jane Stogdill: You’ve got to practice and leaders have ample opportunity for that. There’s a lot of great advice in here about how leaders can use storytelling, for example, to improve communication. What kind of improvements can be made around team communication, which just seems so foundational. I want to especially ask you about the chapter on talent, bringing in talent, I guess also training. How can communication help or hamstring that process?
Monique Maley: Yeah, this was a very important chapter I feel because it’s the one thing that leaders don’t do enough of, I believe, and that can make such a transformative impact on their organizations. The chapter on talent really covers things from how do we attract the right talent and then how do we onboard the right talent. Because all of that is what we’re communicating. The go-to thing is you’ve got an open job, you pull out the job description from the last time you filled it.
You put it up on the job board that you always do and boom, you’re done and you see what comes in. But my belief is that you’ve got to go back and you’ve got to look at that. You may not have to start from a blank sheet of paper but how is that job description describing your culture? How is that job description allowing people to understand not just the tasks that they’re going to do, but the skill that they need to do them successfully?
How can you create a job description where people who are really ideal not just for the job but for your organization, those people you want them to self-select in while there are other people who can read this job description and say, “This is not for me.” You want to get those people to self-select out quickly because that’s the first surround of vetting that you can go through.
Wouldn’t it be ideal if everybody whose application we actually look through is someone who already has a real understanding of what they’re going to be getting into and what skill sets they really need to have, what kind of an environment they’re walking in to? I think that’s so important. And then onboarding is just so often— again, things are moving fast. Lots of people are onboarded every week and we have an employment handbook and whatever and we make everything very DIY for the employee. But you are just sort of dumping everything on them.
Onboarding is not giving people a tour of your office so they know where the break room and the bathroom are and then giving them their HR handbook and their Wi-Fi password. So often that becomes what onboarding devolves into. It becomes more of a compliance thing where it’s such an amazing tool for two things: articulating your culture and setting clear expectations.
If we can from the first day somebody sits down at a desk or opens up their computer when they start their first day with our organization, if we can make sure that they have real clarity around our culture and they’re extremely clear on expectations, both what the organization expects of them but also how they can communicate their own expectations so that everyone is aligned? It’s amazing what it can do for your organization.
You know, I was thinking about this just the other day. I remember a job where literally I got dumped into everything. It was a crazy busy office. I worked with a guy who was always yelling and screaming. I did not know that that’s what I was walking into, they didn’t give me any training whatsoever. They didn’t even tell me how the very complicated phone system worked. I just showed up and they said, “Get to work.” It took me a good month of sticking my foot in my mouth, making errors, hanging up on people accidentally just because I wasn’t given the tools to be successful from day one.
A lot of people who would have that job before me left within a few days because they didn’t know the culture that they were walking into specifically in that office and with the gentleman who I was working was closely with. So, I think that those were things that can be so impactful for leaders too. It’s such an easy thing to start doing.
Jane Stogdill: Missed opportunities and potential problems. I’m interested also in how you write about conflict and communication around conflict. You suggest we should redefine the word, what does that mean?
Monique Maley: A lot of people come to me because say their co-founders are in conflict or they have a team dynamic where everyone is in conflict, and that is a very strong word. The way I try and get my clients to think about it is that right now people think of conflict as a head-on collision, two cars zooming at each other at 85 miles an hour. It doesn’t really matter what you do either because it’s a game of chicken and I’m going to stand my ground or just because you really don’t feel like you have any control over the situation and then bam, it’s going to crash.
What I believe conflict is in my experience is that really it’s a misalignment. It is two cars that are not going in the same direction. They are missing each other for a variety of reasons— and in the book, I give a list of reasons but— one of the most common ones for example is just information. If you are basing a decision on one set of information and I am basing the same decision on a completely different set of information, the likelihood that we’re going to come up with the same solution goes way down.
So, what happens when we sit down and we go, “No, I don’t want to do that. I want it this way. No, we can’t do it this way, we’ve got to do it this way.” When you sit down and you say, okay, if we assume conflict is a misalignment and we go through the lists of the types of misalignment that we could be experiencing. We identify which one it is and you and I suddenly are looking at the same set of facts, the same data to make a decision, the likelihood that we— if not coming to the same solution— that we will understand the other person’s thought process and be able to have a much more constructive conversation about how do we come to a decision, how do we come to a joint agreement on a solution [is higher]. If you’ve got your stuff and I’ve got my stuff and we don’t understand that the other people aren’t coming to the table with the same set of information, then yeah that’s going to feel a conflict. That is a head-on collision waiting to happen.
Your Uniqueness is What Makes You Authentically Powerful
Jane Stogdill: Well, that’s good advice for everyone not just in the business world, right? Last question, we’ve talked about authenticity already a little bit when we were discussing credibility. Tell us more about what you mean by authenticity in this context.
Monique Maley: It’s more and more— it is a phrase that is being discussed, authentic leadership, how you can be authentic as a leader— but what I find is that people follow people on LinkedIn or read articles about people in magazines, people that they admire or people who have achieved things that they want to achieve; people just want to be like them. When I was first starting my business everybody wanted to be like Steve Jobs.
I’m like that is not something that’s going to be an effective solution. Not everybody can show up the way Steve Jobs would show up and have the kind of impact that he would have. We have to figure out what I call in the book our “it factor.” What makes us unique is what makes us authentically powerful. In today’s world so many leaders who have been deemed as successful and you know, I will leave it up to the listener to define success in whatever way they choose but, in whatever definition of that, there is this ideal of leadership.
But those leaders are often quite airbrushed. It’s a little bit like PhotoShopping on Instagram because we don’t see the nooks and crannies that truly make that person successful. We’re so far removed from them on a day-to-day experience that we really don’t know what they’re like. We’re trying to be like someone who [that we] don’t really know who they are. Those two things, trying to be like someone that is very out of our wheelhouse or trying to be like someone who we deemed successful, but we really don’t know who they are.
That is taking all our time and energy to put something on and taking away from the time we can be spending, leaning into what we’re already great at, who we already are. We don’t want to show up to work feeling like we have to be like somebody else or like something else. It is hard enough to get through the workday, right? It’s exhausting enough. The energy that it takes to put something on is so unhelpful and exhausting.
I really talk about auth. leadership and figuring out what is your authentic leadership style, what is your “it factor”, what makes you good at what you do, and the way you do it is what’s authentic. Two people to be successful at the exact same job and the exact same industry but do it very, very differently and that’s because they’re leaning into their authentic style.
Jane Stogdill: Well, I can’t think of a better note to end on, thank you for that. Monique, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Again, listeners, the book is Turbulence: Leadership’s Unsexy Solution to Streamline Rapid Growth.
Monique Maley: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.
Jane Stogdill: Well, thank you for being here and if people want to learn more about you and your work, where can they go?
Monique Maley: They can go to articulatepersuasion.com and they can find all kinds of resources there. I hope that they enjoy the book.
Jane Stogdill: Thank you so much.
Monique Maley: Thank you.