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Here Be Dragons: The Metal Industry Crosses Boundary

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Our industry and our country are in new territory. We are beyond the borders of our experience, especially for our current generations, and trying to figure out the right course to avoid danger and where to discover success. We have been under the yoke of a slow economy for nearly four years, and prospects for a rapid recovery and job growth seem dim.

Recently, our political leadership in Washington dithered about how best to manage our debt. Cynicism is rampant, and prospects for a clear path ahead seem bleak.

If you were to put this situation on a map, we would be on the very edge of the known world. In days past, cartographers marked such a place with the dire warning, "Here Be Dragons." In my gut, I feel the truth of that statement. We are now among the dragons.

So what are reasonable business people supposed to do in such an environment? To extend my metaphor, how do the captains of our businesses navigate these waters? I don't know about you, but my inclination in dire times always is to go back to the basics. And for me the basics always start with communication.

I believe words matter. What we say and how we say it influence people around us in both positive and negative ways. I know people who believe very strongly in the power of non-verbal communication, and I don't mean to dismiss the importance of sending messages to people by our actions, our facial expressions and even our posture or clothing.

But at a time when the world needs straight shooters more than ever, we need to select our words with care and communicate with our coworkers, employees, clients and suppliers with specific and direct conversation. Here are my guidelines for how to make words matter:

  1. Listen to your audience
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Say it clearly
  4. Use it consistently
  5. Make it logical
  6. Appeal to common sense

If we can define our message, we can become the leaders. To do that, we need to execute these basic strategies. Understand the concerns and worries of your employees and suppliers. Tell them the truth without embellishment and in the simplest terms. When you speak or write to them, be consistent in how you phrase your points. To appeal to common sense, you have to be logical and directive. "If we do this, then this will happen. If that happens, our next step is this."

Consider a sea captain on a small sailing vessel becalmed on the edge of the map. He's been out from port for months, and his crew is nervous and concerned. The only way to control that situation, where there be dragons, is to communicate clearly.

The best leaders can do it, and we now desperately need the best leaders to step forward and communicate simply.

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