As a consultant and coach, I’m constantly asking myself that question. I want to respect the time of the leaders I support and counsel. If they invest time with me, they need to get something valuable from me, such as an insight, an idea that they can use, or validation that they’re on the right track.
This “value add” is in addition the work they have asked me to do. By providing them the something extra that’s meaningful to them, I hope to be the essential, go-to person whom Seth Godin wrote about in his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?.
As Seth described, linchpins put their heart and soul into what they do. In my case, this is the “emotional work” (Seth’s term), serving as a strategic communication advisor to leaders so they can better connect with employees, build stronger relationships, and increase their credibility and trust as they deliver results.
So how do you add value in an age where leaders and others have access to extensive information and are capable of doing so much themselves?
Serve as a thinking partner (not past tense, but present) in these three ways, as I do:
- Clarify. You help others articulate their story, message or purpose. You don’t regurgitate what they say; instead, you synthesize. In particular, you cut away the clutter, remove the jargon, and amplify the key elements to make things more understandable and meaningful for the individuals on the receiving end. Sometimes this means helping the leaders develop and refine what they’re saying (the content), not just how they say it.
- Shine. You illuminate others’ points of view. For example, you use visual metaphors or descriptors that not only bring the topic to life, but also make it more memorable and inspiring for them and others. For example, you don’t just say to a leader, “I hear you say that you want to increase beverage sales and revenues.” Instead, you might say, “It sounds like you want to put six cans of juice in six million more consumers’ refrigerators. Does that capture it?” (By the way, in David Rock’s neuro-based intensive coaching program in which I’m certified, we “shine” goals to make them more memorable and inspirational.)
- Interpret. You help translate and explain information that’s often complex. To say it another way, you provide color commentary that others either might not see on their own or might not have the chance to observe. Here’s an example from the toy store of business—that is, the sports business. When I was a student at the Medill School of Journalism, I remember the Chicago Tribute sportswriter Bill Jauss explaining to us how he always called his brother-in-law after Monday night football to ask “So what questions did the sports broadcasters not answer for you about the game?” What Bill heard became the focus of his column the next morning.
In these situations, you’re more of a sculptor molding clay rather than an artist sketching on a blank canvass. Or, to use another figure of speech that I’ve been talking about lately, you’re helping others curate and mine existing work, rather than creating something new. (See 5 ways to curate and add value.)
By helping synthesize leaders’ thoughts and ideas, you’re respecting their creations to which they’re already committed. That makes it more likely that they’ll follow through and continue with their plans. That in itself can be value add.
By the way, on the strategic communication advisor front, if you haven’t yet taken my survey on Being a Strategic Communication Advisor, please do so here by the Aug. 4 deadline.
The point of the survey is not to debate the merits of “advisor” versus “adviser” as someone tried to do with me.
Instead, the intent is to hear directly from those who counsel leaders on strategic communication about their opinions of their role and the challenges they face. Other surveys show that leaders say they experience a gap between what they want and what they get from their communication counselors and others in internal communications. While research exists about what leaders say, the counselors’ collective point of view is silent—until now. We need to hear their voices.
What do you think? And how are you adding value these days?
Connect the dots plus dot the “i”s to be more intentional, inquisitive and inclusive
How well are you tapping into the skills and wisdom you need to lead in a VUCA world?
All the old playbooks are out-of-date. Instead, you need to reach inside yourself, tap into your wisdom, and connect the dots for yourself and others.
To start, you can use these 5 tips to embrace your humanity and become a better leader.