Talk Less But Have More To Say

“Be brief, be brilliant, be gone” In this episode, I share my thoughts upon returning from a recent work trip. This trip ended up being challenging for me to keep my same energy the entire time, but I now have a better understanding of how to prepare and execute those work days and not burn myself out.

During a recent work trip, I was honestly exhausted at the end of each day. This trip ended up being different from my previous ones, mainly because I had a different purpose for attending due to my new role. My attention and energy were being pulled in multiple directions, yet I still needed to perform and do my job. As a result, here are my three takeaways on why leaders need to talk less but have more to say.

My social battery has a finite charge

Attending major AFCEA events like Alamo Ace in San Antonio, TX has large professional benefits. The networking and key panels from senior leadership are opportunities to make progress when planned accordingly. In my new position, I’ve learned of a “shadow agenda” that is not publicly shared yet happens in parallel with the main agenda where senior leaders from across the cyber community converge to get business accomplished. Our team in ACC/A6O will be hosting the next event at Rocky Mountain Cyber Symposium in Colorado Springs, CO. These events take a lot of time and energy to get right, but I’ve seen first-hand the benefit of these occurring and look forward to the next event. I place all of my energy into these shadow events because I am foremost interested in getting things done. Not talking for the sake of talking, talking to say “look at the cool things our team is doing”, or admiring problems. I’m focused on making decisions, moving out, and bringing the future faster for the Air Force. However…that level of effort is very mentally taxing. Add to that mental workload the constant pull from multiple angles for your attention to talk about this or that, or get connected with someone “who really wants to meet you” (read: they aren’t interested in me personally, but the position I temporarily hold), or meeting up with old colleagues (which I do enjoy most)…I’m tapped out by the afternoon. So when people ask me if I’m attending any of the evening socials, my answer is No. I don’t want to. It’s not you, it’s me. You would probably see a shadow of my normal self anyway, and I really need to recharge to do it all over again the next day. This recent experience at Alamo Ace will help shape how I tackle future senior leader events because they will continue to happen and I want to attend them. If you happen to come across me at these events, you’ll notice my energy changes throughout the day. If we meet in the morning, you’re probably seeing the best version of me. After lunch, self-admittedly the quality goes down. Regardless, I’ll strap in to do what needs to be done, but not at my complete expense. Sorry, not sorry.

The quiet storm

There were a few points during the meetings I attended where someone said “Hey, gaberock has been quiet this whole time…not sure if that’s good or bad.” The comment was made in jest, but one could say it is out of character for me. My filter has wholly eroded and I will often ask questions or make comments to drive conversations to address the root cause of a problem instead of dancing around the symptoms. I also have a playful side where I enjoy sharing stories to make people laugh or talk about anything other than work. That leaves a lot of subject matter to cover. However, I also have a good sense of when I need to really listen to someone. Sometimes it’s because of a subject matter I’m unfamiliar with, so I’m in learning mode, or I’m trying to figure out how I can integrate what I’m hearing into a larger effort to promote inclusivity. Both of those require me to shut up and listen intently. We’ve seen people who are just waiting for their time to interrupt your speech to show active engagement when they are really just being rude and want to be heard. Being the “quiet storm” requires patience to allow the other person to get their thoughts out fully. Some people do not have that level of patience, so their storm isn’t so quiet. Regardless, by talking less and listening more, you can have even more impact when you are ready to say something.

“Be brief, be brilliant, be gone”

In a time of the attention economy, the most skillful leaders know how to hone their communications towards the right audience at the right time. Not every conversation needs to get in the weeds/details, and not every conversation should only be at the surface level at best. Having a firm understanding of your subject matter is key so you can wield your messaging accordingly. When speaking to senior leaders, having your “15-second elevator pitch” on your idea or initiative is key. You need to convince the audience that their attention and time would be served best to listen to what you have to say. Conversely, sometimes you need to nail that pitch to earn the trust of the audience to where they don’t need to listen to you anymore because you know what needs to be done and do not require their input. In either case, your responsibility will be to follow through on what happens after that 15 seconds. If you are responsible for a long-term project, then you need to produce deliverables and progress. If you need to give the same speech to someone higher in the chain of command, you need to nail that speech to keep the momentum going. You are responsible for saying less and doing more. The best communicators can ebb and flow in any given conversation, either deliberate or ad hoc, to keep positive progress. Don’t impress the audience with your words, impress them with how you say your words and what you do after you say them.