The Bottom Line in Leadership

Tell me… do you know why I often start these posts with a question?

I do it because the question is the point. It’s what I want you to ponder. It’s my bottom line.

Bottom lining is a coaching and leadership skill that facilitates clear communication, forward progression, and strong interpersonal connections.

It’s also a self leadership skill that empowers you to get clear on what you need in the moment, and what next steps you need to take.

So… what is bottom lining? It’s getting to the root of what you want to convey. This acts as a starting point for discussion, or a turning point in conversations that are getting off track.


Clear Communication

As a leadership technique, the bottom line is about clarity. Here’s what that could look like:

  • “The bottom line is, these two teams need to communicate and that isn’t happening right now. What’s holding us back?”
  • “The bottom line is, we have a roadblock that can’t be eliminated. What are some alternate paths to explore?”

Of course, you don’t have to use the phrase “bottom line”:

  • “I made a mistake that’s delayed us by 2 weeks. I feel frustrated and guilty that I’ve let the team down. I want to make this right.”
  • “I’ve noticed your work quality slipping. These are tough times and we all have individual challenges as well. I’m not here to blame, I’m here to understand and see what we can shift to improve things. What’s coming up for you?”
  • “As I understand, the core issue is that you’re feeling unfulfilled and you want a new challenge. Tell me what that looks like to you.”

You’ll notice that these bottom line statements clearly state the heart of the issue without offering solutions. In this way, they open the door to discussion, while guiding that discussion along the right path.

Forward Progression

Paper Plane Flying in the airWe’ve all been involved in meetings or email chains that go off on tangents or stall. Sometimes tangents are things that need to be explored at another time, but are now taking away from the core issue. And when a discussion stalls, it’s often because the core issue isn’t clear or has been lost in a long winded speech or email.

When we are clear and concise, we empower forward movement.

When a discussion stalls:

  • Bring it back to the bottom line in one or two short sentences:
    • “The core issue is XYZ. What are our options in that regard?”
  • If doing so does not kick start the conversation, people may simply need time to think and that’s ok. Be clear on that too:
    • “Let’s take the day to consider our options regarding XYZ. We’ll meet back here at 9am tomorrow.”

When a discussion goes off on tangents:

  • Bring it back on track while respecting any issues that need to be addressed at another time:
    • “I see we also have ABC and DEF to discuss. I’ve noted them and will set up a separate discussion. Today, our core issue is XYZ. Let’s get back to that.”

Strong Interpersonal Connections

Uncertainty makes people uneasy. Conversations that drag are draining. Meetings where nothing moves forward are demotivating. Getting bogged down in passing blame and finding fault kills productivity and shuts down engagement.

2 coworkers high-fiving each otherClarity, on the other hand, is kindness. It energizes people, puts them at ease, and facilitates co-creative problem solving. It leaves no room for judgement or other negative behaviours.

Even when there are no solutions in sight (yet), clarity on the core issues helps people feel anchored and helps them understand where they fit in the big picture.

When you consistently provide that clarity, you become a person to trust. People turn to you as a leader, see you as a person of honesty and integrity, and know that if they come to you with a problem, you will look at it objectively and help create solutions.

This is a huge deal in a world where many people in leadership positions still use blame and shame as management tactics. Many people hide mistakes and avoid bringing up problems because they fear being blamed.

These days, parents are advised to stop their children from lying by giving them no reason to lie. When a child comes to you with a mistake they’ve made, you acknowledge their honesty and help guide them toward solutions. And guess what? It works!

The same logic works with people of all ages. When you are someone who simply gets to the bottom line – leaving behind those outdated practices of blame, shame and punitive consequences – you give the people you lead no reason but to be open and honest with you. That is how you build strong connections through bottom lining.

Leadership BONUS: The bottom line makes you a better listener

2 female coworkers having a conversationThere’s an expression that managers talk and leaders listen. When you focus on getting to the bottom line instead of talking in circles, you open the floor for others to speak, giving you the opportunity to truly listen and understand.

There’s a bottom lining tactic called W.A.I.T, which stands for Why Am I Talking. As a leader, you sometimes need to convey important information. In that case, getting to the point is critical.

However, most of the time as a leader, your objective is to understand. In that case, it’s equally critical that you get to the point because… “Why am I talking?” You’re talking to open up discussion. Say what needs to be said, then listen.

Bottom Lining and Self Leadership

Even in our communications with ourselves, when we finally get through our own ruminations and solidify our bottom line, it’s like the clouds clear!

Getting to your own bottom line could look like:

  • “I went into work and was distressed to find a pink slip in my inbox. I feel terrible and a lot is coming up right now.”
  • “That person said something that triggered my own feelings of shame. I need to explore that.”
  • “There are too many demands on me right now and it isn’t sustainable.”
  • “I’m feeling responsible for things that aren’t within my control. I need to get clear on what I truly can control in this situation.”
  • “I’m in a bad mood because I don’t like the way I ended that phone call.”

Now, read those statements again. This time, imagine you are in these situations, but did not take a moment to clearly state the bottom line to yourself. What would your outward behaviour look like?

If you’re like most people, chances are that bottom line would be trying to find a way to get your attention. It would crop up as snapping at other people, a sense of brain fog, lower productivity, disproportionate anger at minor challenges, and so on.

Remember, clarity is kindness. With yourself as well.

When you get to the bottom line with yourself, you learn to trust and honour yourself as well, and give yourself the mental space and clarity to respond instead of react.

So… if you’re struggling today, ask yourself, “What’s my bottom line?”

If you’re interested in developing your bottom lining skills and strengthening your leadership skills through self leadership, I invite you to connect with me.