One of the most effective and fastest ways to drive alignment is to lead every conversation with employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders by explaining not what you do, or even how you do it, but why.
If you are finding it harder to gain the trust of employees, vendors, investors and other stakeholders, you’re hardly alone. Trust in business leaders remains stuck near historically low levels, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.
The good news is research also shows how business leaders can sometimes overcome that skepticism and win people’s trust merely by changing the way they communicate. It’s called “purposeful communication,” and it involves starting off every conversation by sharing your purpose, or why you are suggesting or taking a particular course of action. Discussions of what that course of action is, or how you plan to execute it, can and should come later.
Stating you’re why early in every conversation has a way of jump-starting alignment, whether you are speaking with employees and customers or potential vendors and investors. It can engender more meaningful interaction and behavior right out of the gate.
“People don’t buy what you do,” notes Simon Sinek, the author of several best-selling books about leadership. “They buy why you do it.”
Appealing to the reptilian brain
Many researchers attribute this to the continuing influence of our so-called “reptilian brain.” This part of the brain, which was conditioned by millennia of living in a much more hostile environment, still exerts significant influence over human decision making, including who we associate with and even what products and services we purchase, according to neuromarketing research. As a result, working with like-minded people and companies provides humans with a sense of belonging that translates at a subconscious level to a feeling of greater personal safety.
This is why purposeful communication is so critical to effective leadership.
If I show you from the start that we share a purpose, then we’ve connected to each other on a primal level and opened the door for meaningful interaction. In a sense, we have mutually opted into the same tribe.
Consider Sinek’s comparison of how Dell and Apple communicate with consumers.
Dell’s purpose is to efficiently build and ship custom computers. Apple, on the other hand, has defined its purpose as challenging the status quo through design and technical innovation. The brand wants to democratize computing power. They’re radicals. Rebels. Revolutionaries. They bolstered this appeal recently by positioning themselves as champions of privacy against tech titans Google and Facebook These are purposes that appeal to a vast global tribe.
Consumers are willing to buy phones, computers, watches, and music from Apple because they believe in the larger purpose articulated by the brand. If Dell were to offer you a watch or MP3 player, I bet the first thing you would do is ask “Why?”
How I handle my Why
What really hits home for me about the reptilian brain is how tied it is to people’s sense of vulnerability. Its prime concern is survival. So, if I’m able to make someone see that I share their fears, wants and needs, then they’re going to connect with me on the primal level. This is why I urge leaders to share their vulnerability and have made it one of my core values.
For me, purposeful communication means starting conversations with clients by explaining my purpose, which is to empower leaders so that they can live life by design. Once I’ve articulated that, we can move onto discussing my core values, or how I go about delivering my service. Only then can we have a meaningful discussion about what I do, which is help entrepreneurs design business systems and processes that enable them to live life by design.
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