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Using the Spoken Word to Lead and Motivate Your Team – Part 1 – Leadership and Authenticity


Using the Spoken Word to Lead and Motivate Your Team

by Kelly Vandever

After completing a training session on site for a client, I made myself available in the afternoon to provide one-on-one coaching to anyone interested in getting some individual attention or advice.

Bob was one of the people who requested one-on-one time. Bob is a manager within the organization and he’d been highly engaged during the training. I got the sense that he is a good leader and well respected in the organization.

During our individual time, he asked me for presentation tips related to his role as a leader. He spoke about some of the executives within the organization who had inspired him and he clearly had aspirations to advance in the organization.

What follows in the next few blog posts are some of the advice I gave Bob, along with additional thoughts on using the spoken word to lead and motivate your team.


First – Be a Good Leader

All the best presentation skills in the world won’t make up for being a bad boss.

First, become the kind of leader that you would want your own child (or favorite niece, nephew, or other beloved young person) to work for.

Great leaders create a vision for the future and ask others to help make that vision a reality. A strong leader both inspires the followers to come along and serves the followers so that both the leader and the followers can flourish and be successful for their own reasons.

Look first at yourself. Are you behaving like a good leader? If not, take care of that first.

Seek coaching. Read books written by and about great leaders. Take training. Find a mentor. Change your behavior. Make an honest effort to be the kind of leader others would want to follow.


Be Authentic

One of the most important attributes of leadership is the trustworthiness of the leader. And one of the ways to demonstrate trustworthiness when using the spoken word to lead and motivate your team is to be authentic with them.

When speaking in front of your team, be the same person “on the stage” as off the stage. Don’t imitate some other speaker or put on airs because you’re in a more formal speaking situation. Your audience wants a presentation that feels like a conversation, not a lecture. Use the vernacular that you’d ordinarily use. Involve the audience in the discussion where you can. Be yourself.

And the most effective way to demonstrate your own authenticity…


Be Vulnerable

The act of being vulnerable in front your team is the most effective way to communicate your authenticity. And it is the path least taken by organizational leaders – which is why it makes such an impact when used.

Followers want a leader who is confident in him or herself so leaders often choose to conceal all signs of weakness. Of course logically, we all know that no one is perfect. We all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses. That’s why when a leader is willing to be vulnerable, his or her team will appreciate the honesty even more – because their leader is being real with them.

I admit, that vulnerability is a balancing act.

You don’t want to confess every doubt and insecurity you have. But telling a story of your own mistakes of your own struggles will connect you to your team and they will appreciate you trusting them with your own weaknesses. How do I know? I lived it.


Kelly’s Story – Failing to Be Vulnerable

I was managing a team of 10 people when my mom was diagnosed with cancer the second time.

She had survived lung cancer, but 13 years later, developed esophageal cancer. (And if you’re wondering, yes, she was a smoker.)

Over a period of just under a year, she was treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. During that period, I would travel most weekends to be with her and my father – a five and a half hour trip each way from my home in the Atlanta area.

The stress of my mother’s illness and my feelings of neglect of my own family, my husband and two small children, leaked into my work.

I didn’t recognize it at the time but I’d turned into a horrible boss. As my mother’s illness progressed and as it became clear that the cancer was going to take her life, I got worse and worse at work. It took me losing three employees before I finally admitted to myself that I was the problem.

While all this was going on with my mother’s illness, as I was turning into the manager from hell, in all that time, I was never vulnerable with my staff. I didn’t share with them what was going on in my personal life. I didn’t trust them enough to realize that they wouldn’t think less of me because I was being stressed out by what was happening in my personal life. I didn’t trust that they would care about me as a fellow human being going through a rough time. Instead, I kept my problems bottled up and soldiered on… all the while destroying my team and falling down on our mission.

Luckily for me, my boss, with whom I ironically did share what was going on, didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. He gave me the benefit of the doubt and after my mother’s passing, moved me into a new position. I was successful in that position and it lead me to an even more rewarding leadership position. But I often wonder what difference it would have made if I’d been willing to be vulnerable.


Kelly’s Story – Being Vulnerable

Flash forward several years and I’m in the rewarding leadership position I spoke of above. I’d just been asked to take on leading a new group of 20 people who were part of a recent acquisition into the company. That request came around performance review time so I was in the midst of writing performance reviews for my 20 current employees. It turns out the old manager of my new group was no longer with the company, so also had to write performance reviews for the 20 new people whom I’d never actually worked with. So in addition to writing 40 performance reviews, I had to interview dozens of people who actually had worked with my 20 new employees over the proceeding year so I’d have adequate information with which to write their reviews and recommend merit increases.

Then my personal life changed. My daughter, who was then a senior in high school and told me she was pregnant. So in addition to all the drama at work, I was dealing with drama at home and planning for a wedding in less than a month.

While my instinct was to hide my personal life drama from my work world, I knew that you literally can’t hide a pregnancy for long. So I went against my instincts and decided to be open and vulnerable with my boss, my old team, my new team and the clients we were working with. At a joint team meeting, I told my old and new staff that I was going to be a grandmother… a few years sooner than I’d anticipated… but things happen. I explained that while I was writing 40 performance reviews and planning a wedding, I might be hard to reach so call me if you need me urgently or if I don’t get back with you to get you information or resources you need.

What I expected was to be judged. After all, I must be a bad mother if my child became a teenage mother. I expected to be treated differently, to be less respected.

What I found was that people were incredibly kind. Not only do I feel like I never lost their respect. I feel like they trusted me more because I trusted them. And I learned that I was far from alone. People opened up to me about their own stories – of their unplanned pregnancies, of their own children who had unplanned pregnancies, of their being the child of that unplanned pregnancy. My team was truly amazing and we got through the whole period relatively unscathed.

My Wonderful Granddaughters(And in case you’re wondering, my daughter and her husband have a home about 30 minutes from us and I get to see my now nine-year-old granddaughter and her new sister who was born earlier this year on a very regular basis.)

Improving Presentations

Now remember what I said about this vulnerability being a balancing act? About teams wanting a confident leader?

During this time frame, there were parts of me that I did not share with my staff. I felt like a terrible mother because my teenage daughter got pregnant. I cried, I got angry, I felt shame, I blamed others. Those emotions I didn’t share with my staff. Those emotions I worked through with family and friends. But I genuinely feel that because I was forced to be vulnerable with my staff since you can’t hid a pregnancy for long, that my being vulnerable helped me relate better with my staff and kept us from getting derailed from our organizational purpose.


Be a Good Leader – Be Authentic – Be Vulnerable

If you want to use the spoken word to lead and motivate your team, start by being a good leader. Be authentic. Be vulnerable. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll be able to lead your team into.






Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world.   Connect with Kelly and discover how opening up and speaking practically can bring you better business results. 

Contact Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her or tweet her @KellyVandever.



  1. […] When you tell your stories, don’t just speak about the times when you were brilliant. Include times when you didn’t look so good and that failure was part of a growth experience for you. (See the last post about being vulnerable.) […]

  2. […] And if you can’t think of any stories that demonstrate your values, than maybe you’re not really living your values – and that goes back to Part 1 of this blog series – first be a good leader. […]