Do We Have to be Articulate to be an Executive?

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

What Defines an Executive? The clothes… the job title… the voice?

I’ve noticed that recently, this blog has received a LOAD of hits interested in ‘articulation’ – that is – how to communicate in a way that gets your point across effectively. What was weird is that I’d just finished reading a book when I checked the stats: The Articulate Executive in Action: How the Best Leaders Get Things Done by Granville N. Toogood.

It got me thinking about what the persona of an Executive is. One conclusion is that Executives, in my experience, are very capable of talking about something so you understand it, in order to be influenced. Isn’t this essential when influencing and supporting others when making business decisions – of which involve huge sums of money and resource?

I say… hell yeah!

When I read this book, I began to think about how important communication skills are at the highest level. Just imagine if an executive lost his company $billions because they were misunderstood? There are some great examples in the book that show this really does happen. But most Executives who reach the top of their game are amazing speakers. Their voices are melodic and balanced. Their command of language is eloquent and appropriately applied, depending on their audience. Are successful Executives born with this skill, is it trained, or is it developed over time?

It’s easy to think that many Execs are born with it. But that just isn’t true.

The thing is, we can learn how to articulate likes Execs. I did. Over the past 10 years my career has taken me from technical consultant to an Executive in three organizations. What I discovered in that journey are two things; 1) when you meet someone for the first time, they make their minds up about your status, influence and abilities in the first 30 seconds, and 2) if you’re perceived to be the monkey, rather than the organ grinder, it’s very difficult to reposition yourself in their mind. First impressions last, after all. One of the major factor in whether I was seen as the organ-grinder (a key influencer) was how articulate I was in the conversation. Fact. I had to learn the hard way but I got there in the end. More on that in just a second…

On reflection, ‘being articulate’ is a great skill to have, but it doesn’t replace or diminish the need to produce business results. So it’s really a skill that gives us a ticket to the game – it doesn’t give us a touch-down. Nevertheless, to play as an Executive, we still need the ticket!

How Do We Become Articulate?

You know, this entirely depends on many factors of your situations – there is no magic formula. One method I know works in most cases is PRACTICE. That is, put yourself in situations where the objective is to convince and influence, as often as you can. The more you do it, the more you will learn. You won’t get it right first time. Or the second. Or the third. Eventually, your confidence will increase. And that’s the key. Confidence. The people we meet every day who can’t articulate well have one underlying characteristic – one evidence by mumbling, and repeating, and broken sentences – it’s lack of confidence. This might be YOUR starting point, as it was mine; but over time and with lots of practice, you’ll overcome it, like me.

I do recommend the book I mentioned: The Articulate Executive in Action: How the Best Leaders Get Things Done, if you consider yourself an already confident speaker, and you want to learn how to make the next leap up. It’s a business book in a business context, so it won’t tell you how to articulate yourself from first principles, but it’s a very good book if you’re looking to step up the career ladder quickly by several rungs. Look out for the ‘POWER formula’ (no it’s not a food supplement for body builders!) and you might also like the specific and deliberate use of humor as an articulation tool, too.

If you’re starting out in your career then I recommend this fantastic book, too: How to Develop Self-confidence by Dale Carnegie – it’s where I started on my journey, and it’s one of the most important books I have ever read!

Update: I am also told (by Jim Michael of Truro, UK) that this book is brilliant too; Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results: Secrets for Communicating Attention and Getting Results.

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4 thoughts on “Do We Have to be Articulate to be an Executive?”

  1. Nice post Simon! Good articulation isn’t a strength of mine but I want to learn. Thanks for the tip on the book!


  2. Thanks for this blog about articulation. I think we can ‘sell’ this subject on our career website. You’re always in a better position during a job interview when the words just come flying out of your mouth.

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