Lots is written about leadership effectiveness, not least taking care of those in your charge.
But where do leaders go to understand how to take charge of their voice and how many genuinely appreciate what a superpower the voice is?
Not nearly enough, in my opinion.
It’s second nature for effective leaders to evaluate their impact on business metrics, but they often neglect the impact that their voice has on others. I say this as a former C-suite executive that is now coaching leaders at some of the world’s foremost finance and tech businesses.
In my experience, leaders spend far more time preparing what they'll say to investors, journalists and colleagues rather than how they'll say it - overlooking how things like voice speed, pitch, resonance, intonation, loudness and tone impact their message.
Voice coaches understand that preparing how to deliver words can enhance leadership effectiveness. Supported by a growing body of research measuring vocal metrics, I want more leaders to understand the link too.
Take tone of voice, for example. In a first of its kind study, researchers at the universities of Birmingham, Reading and California used algorithms to analyse the answers given by Federal Reserve Chairs, spanning eight-years of press conferences. They found a more upbeat and positive tone, led to a more upbeat and positive share price (The Voice of Monetary Policy, 2021).
Similarly, researchers at Yale University, examined the persuasiveness of delivery in start-up pitches. Using machine learning, they were able to analyse the visual, vocal and verbal characteristics of founders by their pitches. By then tracking the investment decisions of venture investors, they discovered that founders who sounded passionate and warm when pitching, increased their funding probability. (Persuading Investors: A Video-Based Study, 2021).
In a much earlier yet equally fascinating study, surgeons' malpractice claims histories were accurately identified solely from tone of voice. Researchers gave coders 10-second recordings of surgeon/patient conversations. Each conversation had its words removed, so the coders were only listening to voice tone. What did they find? The coders ‘significantly identified surgeons with previous claims compared with those who had no claims’. (Surgeons’ Tone Of Voice: A clue to malpractice history, Nalini Ambady et al, 2002).
Such research would seem to suggest how we say something matters as much, possibly sometimes more, than the words we use. Yet how often do we reflect on the consequences of our non-verbal choices?
Given how much time we spend speaking, it’s incredible that voice isn’t more prominent in leadership programmes.
For leaders to be effective, others must listen and want to follow. Trust and positivity can be heard. Leaders are more engaging and effective when they better understand their voice and use it strategically, intentionally and purposefully.
How can they do that?
Curiosity about this very question prompted me to leave the C-suite to study voice at London’s prestigious Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, whose graduates include Sir Laurence Olivier, Dame Judi Dench and Kit Harington.
I became fascinated by the link between voice and career progression and wanted to learn how actors use voice so I could coach leaders to use theirs most effectively. Royal Central taught me that an effective leadership voice is one that artfully draws upon things like tone, speed of speech, and volume.
Knowing what these tools are and what they can do, allows us to choose and combine the right ones for the job.
Just as we select our words, we have vocal choices that can maximise the effectiveness of our message and ultimately our leadership.
My top tip for anyone looking to enhance their leadership voice is to get curious about your voice.
Tone is a good place to start. It conveys your attitude to your words and those you're speaking with. If you feel confident, credible and care for those in your charge, that will come through in your voice. If you don't, no matter what you say, your voice will leak what you're feeling.
Feedback generally increases leadership effectiveness, so ask people how you sound - particularly how your tone affects them. Tone is perceptual, so seek more than one opinion. If there’s wide consensus that some of your tones are unhelpful, take it on board. Some leaders have a real blind spot around this and, once aware, can take better charge of their impact, improving their leadership effectiveness in the process.
And what leader doesn't want that?