Use Your Leadership Voice

Tired of the yelling and screaming on social media? Here’s the answer.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

We all grew up with teachers who warned us about our “indoor” voice and “outdoor” voice. The indoor voice was measured, soft, respectful of the room and the people occupying it. The outdoor was unrestrained, boisterous, unconcerned with volume or content. Both voices existed within each of us; the challenge was learning to use which voice when.

It should’ve been self-explanatory, of course — the clues were right there in the name. “Indoor” voices belonged indoors, be that school, or home, or church. “Outdoor” voices belonged outdoors, on the playground, or the ball field, or the backyard. Yet as kids, we often struggled with using “outdoor” voices indoors.

(I don’t recall many teachers having to remind kids not to use their “indoor” voice outside; the problem seemed to flow only one way.)

Some adults still struggle with this too; at work, when we launched The John Maxwell Leadersip Podcast, the original co-host with Mark Cole was Richard Chancy. Richard was as good and gregarious a human being as you could ever meet, and when he spoke, he spoke with a volume and timbre that let you know where he stood on an issue. So naturally, when we went to record the podcast, Richard would bring that same energy and volume to the studio. I can’t tell you how many (fruitless) times I reminded him that he didn’t have to be loud — the mic would pick him up and Jake, our engineer and producer, could make him as loud as he wanted.

“But it’s not about being loud,” Richard would say. “It’s about people feeling my energy.”

Co-workers could feel it — through the walls and at their desks; it was impossible for Richard’s booming voice not to work its way through the office. He simply had an “outdoor” voice, even indoors.

I’m writing about this early childhood dichotomy because a lot of us adults are struggling with it again, only this time it’s not indoor v. outdoor; it’s about our personal voice versus our leadership voice. My leader, Mark Cole, shared this distinction with me and our team at the John Maxwell Enterprise. In the midst of Covid, the George Floyd/systemic racism protests, a presidential campaign, and the general feeling that 2020 feels like it’s determined to be the final year of the grand human experience, people aren’t being particularly filtered in what or how they speak these days.

We’re using our personal voices everywhere, in every context, and those voices are loud, angry, and hurt. Those voices aren’t bothered with doxxing someone, aren’t concerned about the long-term ramifications of cancel culture. They just want the world to feel their pain. These personal voices come from all sides, of course — there are many days when it seems no one owns the rational or moral high-ground any longer.

Because these personal voices are so loud and so prevalent, there’s precious little room for leadership voices — the space where measured, thoughtful, and wise voices can exist has shrunken considerably. Our voices of influence, voices of progress and compromise, are noticeably absent. Despite the number of people who want to fill that void on social media, the other, louder voices keep getting in the way. There’s no leadership voice we can all trust, no King or Kennedy calling for us all to face the truth and own our part of it.

So we continue being loud. We continue throwing our personal voices out into the universe, hoping that our righteous anger will create enough silence that our leadership wisdom can break through. But that’s not how it works; if you sow seeds of hurt and anger, you don’t reap a harvest of peace and wisdom. You only get more hurt and anger. If we want to calm down the voices, we’ve got to stop screaming and start leading.

We need to learn to use our leadership voice instead of our personal voice. Our indoor voice instead of our outdoor one.

Yes, the world is messy and complicated. Yes, things feel on edge in a way that we’ve never experienced (mostly because we haven’t). But the world has been through worse things and come through scarred but not ruined. To get there, however, you and I need to start using our voice to bring calm to the social storm — we don’t need to keep stirring the pot and egging insanity on.

Time to use your leadership voice, boys and girls.

God knows we need them.

Writer. Observer. Humorist.

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