The dictionary definition of a stakeholder is ‘a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business.’
In business, stakeholders is used as a catch-all phrase to mean everyone from customers to shareholders and from community groups to politicians.
In simple terms, a stakeholder is anyone beyond your immediate environment whose perception of you is important.
In your personal life, that could be your husband or wife’s family or your friends. At work, it could be another team in your organisation or contractors you work with.
What tends to unite all these relationships is the idea that when asked to describe or articulate what you stand for, your stakeholders should be able to provide a consistent and clear answer.
They should be able to describe very easily how they feel about you, based on their experience of interacting with you.
But we tend to underestimate the role that feelings play in these relationships.
If we’ve sent out a communication, spoken to someone or issued an edict we tend think “that’s it, job done”. But as George Bernard Shaw said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that its has taken place”.
Being clear on your beliefs, values and feelings and communicating them consistently, ensures that your stakeholders understand and experience their relationship with you authentically and consistently over time. That way, your stakeholders will be able to summarise very quickly their perception of you and what values drive you.
It’s also important to feel able to ask for honest, open and constructive feedback from your stakeholders. This is easier if you have been consistently authentic in your communication with them.
All too often we’re afraid to ask for feedback, fearing we will elicit a negative response or we will discover our stakeholders ‘just don’t get us’. If they don’t, it’s highly likely that you’ve been unclear in communicating what you stand for or inconsistent in living your values and beliefs.
Stakeholders will form a perception of you not just from what you say but also from what you do and how you do it.
Being connected to your stakeholders involves living your values and beliefs authentically so that even if you can’t communicate one-to-one, they will still understand what you stand for.
You may often ask your stakeholders about whether they think you are doing a good job, or if there’s more to do to improve our performance. But stakeholders are rarely asked whether they are excited about your mission or even just ‘how do you feel about us?’ Asking about feelings can uncover greater truths about the perceptions stakeholders hold about you.
It can also help to test whether your values and beliefs are in alignment with how you behave and how you communicate, from an external point of view. People tend to be more honest in their appraisal of you if they are describing their feelings about you.
Finally, in whatever sphere of life it is that you have stakeholders, it’s important not to assume that their perception of you is what you would like it to be. Communicating proactively and listening actively to your stakeholders is key to making sure that they understand you.
This takes time and effort but is a crucial part of connecting your internal values, feelings and beliefs with those around you. If your stakeholders are aware and understand you as you wish to be understood, they can be powerful third party advocates for you and everything you want to achieve.
My-Fi: How To Connect With Yourself And Those Around You, by Ken Kelling and Chris Wood, is available to download as a free e-book here.