Great simplifiers

General Colin Powell, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.” Are you good at this?

For a few of us, this trait comes naturally, but if you are not one of those, don’t despair. You can get better with practice. Assume that everyone you talk to wants the shortest possible version of your message. Why is that? Because we are all inundated with messaging on a crazy assortment of topics flashing across our news feeds, our social media feeds, the radio, and our family, friends and coworkers.

So subject, thesis and conclusion better be tidy and compelling. For those of you who want to be heard at Tuesday’s staff meeting, lay out your position and practice it Monday. Video yourself on your phone and self correct. If you think there will be other viewpoints, write them out and prepare your counter arguments.

Another way to practice is to read an article and summarize the 3 main points to a friend or family member. Or pretend you are on a high school debate team arguing about the best strategy for getting kids back to class as safely as possible. Being a clear and concise speaker is an influence builder. You will be noticed and respected for it.

If you get that mastered, you can turn to the most difficult part of General Powell’s description of great simplifiers. It is not summarizing the arguments. The difficult part is cutting through the discussion and doubt to advocate for a position that is logical and understandable. In a complicated situation, you may not always be right in your assessment. But your clarity around your position will help everyone else to clarify theirs. Ultimately, a good result is more likely to be chosen, even if it was not yours.

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