Many years ago, I chanced upon a fascinating book – Leading Minds – by a reputed psychologist and Harvard professor that went by the name of Howard Gardner. In his book, Gardner examines the lives of 11 men and women from the last century and seeks to isolate the elements of Leadership found in individuals operating in vastly different areas. One of the most important things leaders do, Gardner says, is relate stories! Much of their effectiveness comes from the power of their stories and the extent to which their own lives embody that story.
"The pen is mightier than the sword." — Bulwer-Lytton
At the time, I was merely a student in a business school, absorbing all the theories and surmises I could lay my hands on, like a sponge. But today, after spending more than 7 years working in various organizations and seeing life as an adult, I can’t help but wonder how significant a part "Effective Communication" plays in our lives!
"Saying nothing…sometimes says the most." — Emily Dickinson
True, most of us may not see ourselves as "leader material". But, it’s not just about Leadership, is it? Is there any one among us who hasn’t, at some point or the other, wished that they could talk smarter? Haven’t we secretly envied the charmers and smooth-talkers of the world, whenever we encountered them? Haven’t we wished that we didn’t get butterflies in our stomach and develop a cold sweat, at the prospect of addressing a public audience? And, haven’t we judged others (instantly), the moment we discovered that they couldn’t even speak a proper sentence in English?!
A few weeks ago, I returned from a Competence Assessment Center run by my organization in which senior managers, like myself, assess prospective candidates (achieving more than a specified business threshold) for a potential promotion. The structure of the assessment center is meant to test for man-management skills and maturity in terms of business understanding. However, as happens in many spheres of life (and work), it all comes down to an individual’s communication skills: If you can’t express yourself well during that all-important Group Discussion or Case Study Presentation, how am I to assess your intrinsic abilities in that regard?
"You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere." — Lee Iacocca
Ever so often, I come across ‘good people’ … people who are good at what they do and have the potential to reach greater heights in their career, but will not do so because they come across as being "not smart enough". You may argue that in today’s world, there is no room for someone who cannot communicate well, simply because business (and life) at every level demands quality interaction. But, that’s precisely my point.
I have been fortunate enough to be blessed with good communication skills, since as long as I can remember. And, I have no doubt in my mind that that attribute has helped me considerably in achieving the things I have so far. But, that’s not every one’s story, is it? Our schools and colleges continue to churn out hundreds and thousands of students each year, supposedly ready to face the world, but ill-equipped to do so… All because learning communication skills has never been very high on the agenda.
We spent a good part of our formative years learning about split infinitives and about the anomalous behaviour of water… we were taught the formula for a differential equation and also taught capitals of countries we may never encounter… but, we never learned how to express our own ideas to others, simply and effectively!