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Dave Durand | author
May 01, 2009
Filed under Ethics
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Say what you mean, mean what you say

Catholic business ethics expert Dave Durand contents that conviction is more than a strategy for attracting top talent. Demonstrating conviction is a leader’s moral obligation. One of the most powerful ways leaders can and should communicate conviction is to say what they mean and mean what they say. People need to know the depth of your conviction.

Dave Durand

Dave Durand

Conviction is the music of leadership. I once heard a famous psychiatrist decry the fact that a single song can have greater influence on a person’s brain activity than a therapist can in years. Music captures emotions and frees the mind. It can prepare you for battle and calm you during stress. The more dramatic the music is, the more powerfully the lyrics are received. We all know what it’s like to listen to uninspired music. It repels sophisticated and educated people. They don’t “buy” it in spirit or in stores.

Well-intentioned leaders who fail to communicate their vision with conviction fail to attract great people to their teams just like bad music repels listeners. Unfortunately, weak followers sometimes don’t care what the music or lyrics sound like. They’ll listen to anything, which is why some leaders fill their staffing requirements but can’t seem to attract top talent.

Setting your message to music — or conviction, as the metaphor implies — is more than a strategy for attracting top talent. Demonstrating conviction is a leader’s moral obligation. It’s a sign of integrity. Sending subordinates on a mission that you, as a leader, don’t believe in is dubious at best. There are, of course, nuances in leadership that may include allowing subordinates to discover and innovate in areas that a leader might not fully buy into. Making room for those situations is smart as long as the leader communicates his concerns so there aren’t any surprises in the end. Expressing your concerns is expressing your convictions. Open communication creates an atmosphere of security. It’s better for subordinates to be given the blessing of a leader with open doubts than the false support of a leader who demonstrates insincerity.

Communicating your convictions as a leader is so important that it actually makes sense to establish a strategic plan for doing so. In other words, making a plan not so much for the words, but for the music, is crucial. Tragically, I have seen many leaders with strong convictions and great ideas who fail to communicate them in a believable way. This is true no matter what the setting. It can be seen in corporate America, politics, the Church and even at home.

When I was in high school, I remember listening to catechism teachers mumble out a few pre-scripted ideas about what it “might mean” to sin. They had such little conviction that I not only didn’t hear what they said, I didn’t care what they said. On the other hand, my football coach, who was a perennial winner for 30 years, always spoke with conviction. I believed everything he said about the game and I did everything he asked me to on the field. He inspired me because I believed him. I used his conviction as my own. He was great because through his obvious convictions he got others to believe in their own greatness and the team’s united mission.

There are three powerful ways that leaders can and should communicate conviction. First, they must only say what they mean and mean what say. George Burns once said, “The key to acting is sincerity. Once you learn to fake that you have it made.” The world is filled with actors in leadership roles. Scripture tells us to be sure our yes means yes and our no means no. The Bible also cautions that many people have tongues of deceit and flattery which are used only for their personal gain. Far too often weak leaders say things out of selfish motives. They tell subordinates to do things under the false guise that they have their best intentions in mind, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Public examples of this in politics and business are so frequently reported that I will refrain from dredging them up. The point is that “selling an idea” you don’t buy yourself is bad for all parties and terrible for your soul.

The second way that leaders should communicate conviction is by backing up what they say. Recently there have been some heroic examples of leaders showing concern for their employees during these challenging times. There are inspiring stories of private companies whose leaders have reduced their own compensation in order to prevent layoffs. When a CEO asks his staff to take a 10% cut in pay because it will save jobs, it can be received skeptically. But it has huge meaning when he puts his conviction behind the message by cutting his own compensation by 80%. This demonstrates that conviction is not simply about presentation and communication skills. It’s about principle.

The third thing that a leader should do to communicate his convictions effectively is to engage in healthy conflict, which means putting your convictions and principles ahead of your comfort. Being straight with your team is essential. It may not always be easy, but it will create an atmosphere of security. People need to know where you stand and how deep your roots of conviction run.

Dave Durand is best-selling author of “Perpetual Motivation,” executive of a $250 million company, and trainer of well over 100,000 individuals in sales, marketing and business management. He writes a regular column for the National Catholic Register.

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