What Leaders Say. What Employees Hear. How to Bridge That Gap.

by Daniel Jacobs

When I was 12 years old, I had the opportunity to watch someone I idolized speak to a large, standing-only crowd of people. His words were mesmerizing. Everything he said felt masterful; poetry about how to create a life well-lived. Afterward, I was given the chance to meet that man backstage. When his eyes locked with mine, I used that opportunity to say, “That was amazing!”. He looked at me, paused, and leaned close to my ear. “Here’s a secret, kid. I don’t believe any of what I just said,” he whispered. “But that’s not important. What’s important is that they believe. Remember that. You’ll go places.”

I remember feeling heartbroken; like everything I’d thought was real and meaningful came tumbling down. I couldn’t understand, as a 12 year old kid, how words could sound so authentic…. even though they weren’t.

I realized, in that moment, that I did not want to be like that man.

Instead, I wanted to figure out how to align my life with my values. I wanted to figure out how to be and speak and build from an authentic place that reflected what I authentically believe. I wanted to live a life of purpose and meaning.

I’ve often shared this story with leaders who must communicate their vision, passion, and values to hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of people… and who want those people to adopt the same vision, passion, and values as their own. My moral when I share this story is simple: if you really want to connect with employees in an authentic and powerful way, make sure you don’t lose what you believe… when trying to find the most effective way to ensure they believe.

…make sure you don’t lose what you believe… when trying to find the most effective way to ensure they believe.

…because employees are smart. They know the difference between authentic and inauthentic. They know the difference between caring and pretending to care. They are starving for the former. They will leave you if you try to fool them with latter.

So the next time you are communicating to hundreds of thousands of people, to a standing room only crowd, or maybe just to a twelve year old kid who idolizes you:

Share what you believe. Open yourself to what they believe. And build a bridge of communication that deepens the connection between those beliefs. This is authenticity. This is caring. This makes great businesses!

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