How to be the laconic cowboy with executive presence

by | May 6, 2014 | Blog | 0 comments

lacononic cowboy statue“…The longer it takes to answer a simple question, the more I worry. If I ask a guy if it’s raining outside, and he starts to tell me about cloud formations, I know we’ve got an issue.”

—   Ron Kaplan, CEO of of Trex in an interview with Adam Bryant of The New York Times

This CEO seems to have a direct communication style, which is common among CEOs as well as other hard-driving leaders.

These individuals expect their staff members to get to the point, present positions clearly and decisively and show confidence.

Yet, it isn’t always easy for staff members to be like the laconic cowboys of yesteryear found on ranches or film sets. They were the quiet-talking, fast-drawing heroes everyone noticed when they walked into the bar.

Instead, many staff members today tend to emulate characters you’d find in oil fields. For example, they may be:

  • Gushers: Effusively flowing with little prompting.
  • Drillers: Boring holes that go deep with details.
  • Surveyors: Giving you a lay of the land, not only of the back 40 acres but also the back story.

In my coaching practice, I frequently see all types.

To help my coachees develop more executive presence as well as better match their leaders’ style, we work on “speaking with intent.”

When you speak with intent, you are able to connect more quickly, genuinely and constructively with others, as I learned from Dr. David Rock and his Neuroleadership Institute brain-based coaching program.

Speaking with intent includes these three key elements:

  1. Succinct—make every word you use count. To be succinct, you need to think before you speak, determine your core message, and use as few words as possible. This may mean editing yourself before you open your mouth. When you’re succinct, you improve your chances of getting and keeping peoples’ attention.
  2. Specific—provide relevant, precise information.  You need to be exact, rather than speaking in glittering generalities. For example, don’t just say “I’ve got it under control;” say, “I spoke with Tom, Dick and Harriet. We’re meeting at 2 pm and we’ll be back to you by 4:30 pm with our plan of action.” This precision shows that you’re competent and reliable.
  3. Sincere—connect personally. Take the extra step to be personable to show you’re human, you can relate to others, and even better possibly express humility. That helps them relate to what you’re saying. For example, you may want to acknowledge that you’d like to share the two-hour movie version but you know your boss wants just the 6-second video.

All three combined ensure that you deliver the goods in a credible manner. As the Texans say, you won’t be mistaken for being “all hat, no cattle”—which is a person who’s all talk and no substance.

Now knowing about “SSS” (succinct, specific and sincere) and consistently doing it are two different things. You have to practice, and even then it doesn’t always come naturally.

For instance, I’ve found that it’s much harder for me to speak with intent when I’m tired. I grope for words so I start thinking out loud, which drives the introverts around me nuts. Now I try to pause and channel my laconic cowboy before I speak.

How about you?


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