Last week I attended a symposium at the IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland led by Robin Sharma, a globally recognized authority on leadership. Robin is the author of 11 international best-selling books, perhaps most notably The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and, most recently, The Leader Who Had No Title.
It was great to see Robin live, not only because of his inspirational message, but also because he is an old friend. He and I used to work together in the same law firm in Toronto many years ago. It was wonderful to sit down with him after the symposium and catch up.
Robin’s talk was about leading without a title. At the heart of great leadership lies the idea of positively inspiring others. But in order to touch others, one must first develop one’s inner self. As Robin said, “You can’t celebrate another human being unless you have first celebrated yourself.” We cannot help others develop unless we have made the commitment to be relentless in our own personal development.
I would not qualify anything that Robin said as revolutionary – and Robin is the first to admit it. It’s just common sense. Then again, as Voltaire and Mark Twain both said, common sense isn’t so common. Sometimes we need people like Robin to remind us of the fundamentals. “Leadership,” Robin notes, “is simple. But it’s not easy.”
The lessons that Robin teaches are highly relevant for public speakers. Every time you stand up to speak in front of people, you are leading. Think about it. People are giving up their time to listen to you. You are being given an opportunity – a gift – to inform or entertain or persuade or inspire them. If that’s not leadership, then I don’t know what is.
While I cannot cover everything that Robin discussed, I have set out below some of my key takeaway points from his symposium about leadership, and how I believe they apply to public speakers. First, I list his “Seven Devotions” of leadership.
The Seven Devotions of Leadership
- Leaders are ridiculously good at what they do.
- Leaders are ferociously curious.
- Leaders balance artistry with engineering.
- Leaders leave others better than they found them.
- Leaders run marathons, not sprints. They are in it for the long run.
- Leaders edit out what does not work and amplify what does.
- Leaders have their video in sync with their audio; i.e. they have integrity.
So how do leaders become (and remain) leaders? Set out below are just five of the habits that Robin says great leaders practice and cultivate on a consistent basis. Following each habit is my assessment of how it is relevant for public speakers.
1. Leaders accept absolute personal responsibility.
Robin says that leaders have a “no excuses mentality”. They don’t point the finger at others when things don’ work out as planned. They willlingly accept responsibility for their actions, their people and their results.
As public speakers, we are responsible for ensuring that our speeches and presentations are as good as they can possibly be. We are responsible for understanding our audience’s interests and needs, for preparing an appropriate talk, for being at the venue on time, for ensuring that everything works, for having a backup plan. We often have to rely on others, especially for logistical matters, but we cannot abdicate our responsibility to our audience.
2. Leaders pay obsessive attention to detail.
Leaders constantly pay attention to what they are doing, whether at work or in their personal lives. The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and for leaders, no detail is too small.
As speakers, we must also be rigorous in our attention to detail. Does the presentation cover the key points? Am I keeping to time? Is the audience attentive? Do I need to adjust my delivery for better engagement? Is the sound system working properly? Can everyone hear? Is the lighting right for the slide show? Am I making the best use of the stage? These are just some of the many details of which speakers must constantly be aware.
3. Leaders always deliver outrageous value.
A while back I wrote a post based on an article by Seth Godin about “phoning it in”; i.e., doing something in an uncommitted, half-hearted way. Like good leaders, good speakers don’t just go through the motions. Good speakers never phone in their presentations. They prepare. They make it meaningful. They leave the audience feeling that they received great value for their time and money. Check that – outrageous value.
4. Leaders never stop improving.
Leadership is like that old Nike commercial: “There is no finish line.” If we do not improve, we stagnate. Leaders never cease in their efforts to get better at what they do.
Good speakers are the same. They constantly strive to improve. They analyze their performances in order to build on what worked well and to change what didn’t. They watch other great speakers. They read books on public speaking and presentations. They study the great speeches of history. They practice. They experiment. They learn. They grow.
5. Leaders keep moving forward.
There are parallels between this habit and the one above, but there is a distinction. For me, this habit means that leaders do not quit when they encounter obstacles or face setbacks, as we all do from time to time. They learn from negative experiences and use that knowledge to keep moving forward with renewed energy and confidence.
Public speakers must be relentless when it comes to moving forward, particularly when they start out. The beginning of one’s public speaking experience is usually the most frightening because that is when the learning curve is the steepest. Forgotten lines; uncontrollable nerves; uncertainty about how to carry oneself on stage; self-doubt – all these things and more can kill a speaking career in its infancy if the speaker does not have the determination and the gumption to keep moving forward.
And as any seasoned public speaker will tell you, the learning curve never flattens out entirely. There are always bumps in the road. Don’t quit. Everyone who has ever spoken in public has gone through the same thing. Everyone. Get back in saddle. Try again. Keep moving forward.
So there you have it. Some thoughts on Robin Sharma’s leadership lessons and how they apply to public speakers. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to visit Robin’s website. There is a wealth of information and free resources there. And, if you have not done so, pick up one of Robin’s many great books. They are worth the price.