Leading Without A Voice

Do you ever feel like you have one of those little gremlin voices in the back of your head, incessantly trying to convince you that you’re a fraud, that you don’t really know what you’re doing, that you’ve been lucky up to this point and one day — like that famous nightmare where you find yourself on stage, completely naked in front of an audience — you’re going to find yourself completely exposed and vulnerable?

No? That’s just me then? Bummer!

You know, if I’m not careful, that gremlin will start to steal my voice. Then what happens?

As a professional speaker, that gremlin came to life a little while back. I was getting ready to do a full day retreat with an amazing team. I had been looking forward to leading this particular retreat for months, but to my dismay, the day before the event, I woke up without a physical voice. I don’t mean it was scratchy, I mean it was missing— although the gremlin voice was laughing loud and clear, repeating in that irritating sing-song tone: “I told you so, I told you so!”  Man, I hate that guy! To this day, I’m not sure what happened. I hadn’t been yelling and cheering at a concert for hours the night before. I didn’t have a cold. It didn’t hurt to swallow. Nothing. My voice was just…gone. And in just 24 short hours, I had to lead a full day-long retreat!

I did everything I could think of to repair my poor vocal chords, but it did little to help. I got a whisper of a voice back, but I could only speak within a certain range, and projection was all but non-existent. Fortunately, it was a small group and a small room, and together we creatively adapted. Thanks to the gracious patience from attendees, I think we actually ended up with a better retreat then we would have had if my voice worked perfectly!

Has that ever happened to you, literally or figuratively — where you lost your voice at a crucial moment of leadership? Maybe you lost your confidence to speak, or the faith in what you had to say. Perhaps you became overwhelmingly afraid that no matter how “right” you are, people are just going to resist, or worse. Or it could just be your gremlin convincing you that you aren’t worthy. Sometimes, when I’m feeling really down, it feels as if I’ve lost my right to have a voice, that I have nothing significant to say, especially as a leader.

Intellectually, I know that’s not true (I’ve always got something to say) — but when things go physically or circumstantially wrong, all too often there’s that voice in the back of our head whispering that this is the way it’s supposed to be. And even if our conscious mind intellectually disagrees with that, it can have a powerful effect on our emotions, well-being and effectiveness. Well, what if we flipped that script? Instead of doubt and the overwhelming power of that negative gremlin voice, what if we were to look at it the other way around?

Even without a voice, I was able to adapt and work with the team to lead a full-day retreat. In some cases they stepped up, but in other cases I found my hindered voice wasn’t the gremlin saying I’m unworthy — it was the universe telling me that the message was so powerful, so important, that it needed a whisper, not a shout. Losing our voice as a leader, literally or metaphorically, is not an indication of weakness, but an invitation to alter the delivery. Maybe in your silence lives a whisper, like Whoville on Norton’s speck, that would otherwise be missed. No matter what your own circumstances are, or where doubt creeps in, I hope you’ll remember there are an infinite number of ways to look at things — and we aren’t required to choose the most negative, the most self-deprecating perspective. There is no honor in beating yourself up, and every time you do, you are selfishly making the situation about you — when the odds have it that the challenge laid before you is nothing more than a reminder that our work as leaders is about them: those that we serve. In doing so, we learn to dance in the rain instead of running for cover.

Can you relate? Or is that a lesson only I need to learn?