Talk Less, Smile More—A Guide for Leader Communication

Anyone who is a Hamfan, that is, a fan of the huge musical hit, Hamilton—the Musical, quickly recognized the reference in the title of this blog. From a leadership perspective, it’s a study in communication. At the start of the show, Aaron Burr, having already begun making a name for himself in New York, tells a new immigrant, Alexander Hamilton, his secret to success—“Talk less. Smile More.” Hamilton will become a leader in large part because of his communication skills. He is “young, scrappy, and hungry” to learn. As such, he is asking a lot of questions. What are the most thought provoking authentic questions a leader can ask? It, of course depends on the destination. Whether you are doing what , doing an inquiry of the progression of a project, or trying to stimulate a new way to solve a problem, the questions are the bread and butter to the whole thing.

“If You Keep Outta Trouble, Then You Double Your Chances”

More wisdom from Burr. His logic being that if you make friends with everyone, you have access to input from all sides. Indeed, if we, as leaders communicating by listening more, we increase our opportunities for success. The best form of conversation as a leader is from a position of intense curiosity. Burr’s stance as an up-and-coming leader is to smile more, staying silent to listen to what is happening around him. Thoughtful questions on how someone is doing or what are their thoughts on the current project go a long way and are the most important resource any company could have. Questions demonstrate what type of leader you are. They can also give insight to your ability to communicate effectively across the company.

Leadership communication between two people
Photo credit: Cherrie Davis

“Who is This?”

Burr says “Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead” and Hamilton chides “You can’t be serious”.  Talking openly and honestly about issues and concerns can be intimidating for employees, especially talking with leadership. Anxious about potential outcomes, they can be guarded, sharing only as much as they feel they can while keeping the rest to themselves. They don’t want to be the person who overshares, spilling any and everything, leading to dire consequences for themself or the team. Create a space where people feel trusted to share their concerns without retribution. Assure them that all input is important. Most importantly, demonstrate that by not retaliating or allowing any kind of intimidation for answers given with sincere intention.

“What Time is it? SHOWTIME!”

Alexander Hamilton is not the star of the show for no reason. He quickly becomes known for talking excessively. He knows the direction he wants to go in, actual independence for the Colonies, and shares it with anyone who listens or reads. When the time comes for action, he has selectively chosen his course of action. He tells Burr, “I’d rather be divisive than indecisive”. Although we as leaders never want to be divisive, we do want to accomplish a goal

Listening more allows your team to move towards the goal. It is an impactful leader who defines the goal, guided by asking questions that identify the challenges, uncover strengths, and coordinate efforts to victory. Encourage your team to share their observations and solutions Listen with a smile on your face. Put on your big leader pants and don’t take input you receive personally. Instead, use them to uncover ways for you (and your team) to take your shot!

Looking for some guidance with your communication? Check out my consulting services. 

Spoiler alert: Burr and Hamilton build a growing animosity through the show that leads to Burr and Hamilton having a duel that costs Hamilton his life. Burr laments “I should have known the world was wide enough, for both Hamilton and me”. If you aren’t already inspired by the story of our founding fathers, watch it.  Welcome to your new obsession!

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