Fancy yourself as the next Steve Jobs? Sheryl Sandberg? Elon Musk? Perhaps your goals are less about celebrity and more about just being the most effective leader possible. There are many attributes that make great leaders-intellectual horsepower, charisma, creativity, salesmanship are just a few. But there is one skill that is an absolute necessity-being a great explainer. Great leaders must synthesize a vast array of complex issues and simplify them into easily explained actionable items.
Simple, clear communications is far more difficult than people imagine. Some people have a natural talent for it but many more leave confusion in their wake - a recipe for mediocrity at best. Being a great explainer and breeding a team of them is an obtainable skill if you are willing to invest some time to focus and make it a priority. Here are some tips.
Always understand your audience
I can't tell you how many speeches or presentations I have sat through wondering who the heck presenter thought the audience was. Usually it's because they are lazy and are using some canned pitch they know off the top of their heads. And there they are blathering away oblivious to the fact their audience has tuned them out. Not only does this make you a bad explainer but it is disrespectful to your listener.
I'm not just referring to formal presentations but all of your communications. Before you pass along information of any kind ask yourself what does this person need from me to do the job. What other context can I provide to insure they understand?
Keep it brief
When your 6 year old asks you where babies come from there is no need to discuss birth control. Do the work to right-size all of your communications. Practice "need to know" vs. "nice to know" and explanations will become simple and clear.
I am not advocating lack of transparency. People often confuse transparency with full disclosure. Transparency means truthfulness and is essential to a healthy organization. It doesn't mean every single person should know every detail about the business. Information overload can create confusion and concern versus clarity and focus.
RJP (Reduce Jargon Please)
Every business has its own shorthand, an alphabet soup of acronyms that are meant to make business communications easier. For example if you are in genomics you are very hot on CRSPRS these days. The tech sector has been quite high on cloud/SAAS. No matter what your field-you got jargon and it is a corrosive force to simple communications.
At any particular time you are talking to newer employees, or customers or investors or the press and they will not be so immersed in your jargon. Human nature inhibits most people from raising their hand and asking, "what does ACV stand for?" No one wants to look stupid. So rather than suffering public embarrassment most folks are walking around with a vague idea of that acronym-not a great way to be excellent at your job.
Then there are those for whom knowledge of jargon is currency. Remember that call to the IT guy? "Just go into the system configuration and set the subnet mask to yada yada" The headache he gave you is job security to that guy; if it was easy you might not need him. Try this experiment and I promise your folks will thank you: declare an acronym-free day. Insist that everyone use the full description like "Annual Contract Value" instead of ACV. Then watch what happens. You might make it a regular habit.
Set an example by using simple clear explanations devoid of jargon and stilted language and your senior team will follow suit. It sounds trivial and cumbersome, but jargon just creates speed bumps to quick comprehension.
Your abilities as an explainer can either amplify or mitigate stress. People don't work well when they are overstressed and let's face it, there is more than enough everyday stress to go around in the workplace. Employees look to their leadership to calibrate their own reactions to what's going on. If they see and hear management running around hair-on-fire they will be alarmed. Stress and concern should always travel up the chain and never down. Your lieutenants can always complain to you but never should they tell a subordinate "jeez the CEO is really strung out etc. etc." or "gee - I sure am worried about whats going on."
Lack of information in stressful situations is even worse than no communication. Nature abhors a vacuum and if you don't explain what is going on, people will imagine the worst. This is where your ability to explain the state of affairs simply, without jargon and with just enough information to satisfy will help keep the troops focused.
Always invoke mission
The best way to anchor your explaining is to always come back to the company mission and each person's contribution to that mission. If you can take complex information and reduce it to the simplest element for whatever audience you are addressing, internal or external, and tie it to your mission and goals you can be sure you will have achieved the status of "great explainer."