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The Exercise Every Business Leader Needs to Do:
Find Your Voice

by Libby Wagner


Most business writing I read is awful—boring, verbose—and absolutely ignores the audience in any way other than to demonstrate how smart the author thinks he or she is. Many business leaders are using their leadership voices in the same way—without authenticity, stilted, dull. This type of forced voice dramatically hinders the influence a leader has over his or her followers. 

There are exceptions, of course, and these are those whose voice, personality and humanity jump out at you when you read. You feel like you know the person, have a sense of their style, personality and principles. They feel authentic and genuine to you. If what they say resonates with you, you might even imagine yourself aligning or following, adapting or adopting ideas, methodologies or traits. 

So how can you become one of the exceptional leaders whose message resonates with your followers?  What I believe differentiates you as a leader is your voice.  As counterintuitive as it may sound, the more you integrate yourself into your leadership, the greater your influence will be on your followers. 

When I went to writing school, we learned about voice. What does this mean? You have something to say that’s important. How or why people may believe you, be moved by you, and especially moved to act, is important. What does your voice sound like? Not necessarily its auditory characteristics, but the way people perceive what you are saying with language and without. How do you know if you’ve found your authentic voice and whether it will influence anyone or impact business results?

Your voice is the articulation and manifestation of who you are as a person and a manifestation of your character. I realized, after my consulting business had become successful, that I really was doing what I’d always done—helping people find their voices. As a teacher, I helped students find their voices in writing and speaking. Now, I work with leaders to help them get really clear about what they want, what they envision for their teams and organizations, and then we figure out how to “say” it out loud—in person, in text, in actions. Their leadership voices become stronger and more confident, as they become better influencers.

Voice is how you sound in your speech, your writing, your messaging and framing. Voice is the manifestation of Genuineness. Those behaviors and actions and idiosyncrasies that make you you and allow you to lead from a place of confidence, assurance and passion. Voice is weaving your stories and experience and view of the world into how you lead and how others perceive you. Your voice is uniquely, absolutely yours.

I still help people find their voices: I help my clients identify what they want, why they want it, how to say it or ask for it, how to clearly articulate, how to listen and respond, how to make their own decisions—all of these things help someone stand firmly, decidedly, in their own important places, speaking with confidence. Where do you want to take your company or team? What does success look like for you? What do you want them to do, or stop doing? Your ability to articulate, to use language that rings true to you and that influences others, is using your voice well.

Steps to Refining Your Voice

Step 1. Get a journal, thought book or someplace to write and record your thinking.

Yes, I realize that paper is so old school and we’re on the verge of “kindleing” becoming a verb, but I think it makes a difference. I can type really fast and I can write on a computer, too, but I know I write differently long-hand. It’s kinetic in a different way. Just do it.

Step 2.  Use the following questions to prompt your writing and thinking. Best method is to just write, without stopping, editing or censoring. If you struggle with writing or this whole idea sounds torturous, make it as easy as you can on yourself. I use a digital kitchen timer sometimes to help me stay focused for a period of time. If you get stuck, just write “I can’t think of anything . . . “ or “blah blah blah” until you get unstuck.

  1. WHAT DO YOU WANT? How do you envision your best version of yourself as a leader? Where would you work? With whom? In what industry or circumstances? Or perhaps less general, what do you want in a particular situation or scenario? In your current role?

  2. WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO? What is your personal mission or purpose? What gets you excited and completely enthusiastic? Where is your passion? Where do you feel “whole-hearted?”

  3. WHAT EXPERIENCES OR INCIDENTS HAVE SHAPED YOU? What are some of the best lessons you’ve learned? How do you know? What would you do again, no matter what?

  4. HOW DO YOU MAKE THINGS BETTER? Think about how you define success. What is your ultimate value and contribution to achieving it?

  5. WHAT NEXT? Where do you go from here? What’s your next step, decisive action or grand adventure?

Set your timer (or watch the clock) and write for at least 10 minutes on each topic without stopping. Don’t be surprised if you want to write more—indeed, these are things that are important to you and you may have a lot to say!

Step 3: Put your writing/thinking work away for at least a day. Give yourself some distance from the idea generating and brainstorming.

Step 4: Then, set aside an hour or 90 minutes to review and reflect on what you’ve written. Ask yourself the following:

  1. What themes do I see that seem important?

  2. What is surprising or intriguing about what I wrote? Was anything missing that I thought would show up, but didn’t?

Step 5: Then, complete the following:

After my review, I have identified the following three intentions for my own development as a leader:


This writing/thinking exercise helps you get clear about what’s important to you and for you. Reflecting and reviewing allows you to identify the next, most pertinent intentions to have for yourself. This is the road to congruence.


The Author

Libby Wagner


Libby Wagner, of Libby Wagner & Associates, is perhaps America’s only poet regularly welcomed into the boardroom. Author of the new book The Influencing Option: The Art of Building a Profit Culture in Business (Global Professional Publishing), she has been labeled The Influencing Coach™ by her clients. Her expertise in leadership, strategy, management, and executive team development helps organizations create environments where clarity and increased trust lead to unrivaled results, shaping such Fortune 500 cultures as Boeing, Nike, Philips and Costco. 

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Many more articles in Authenticity in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2011 by Libby Wagner. All rights reserved.

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