How Life Helped Me Lose My Voice

By Josh Epperson

Tuesday, May 9th 2017

“Who in the room considers themselves a singer? Raise your hand.” Not a hand went up.

“How many hands would go up if we asked that same question to a room full of first graders?”

Someone shouted, “Everyone’s hand would go up.” Others agreed.

“So what happened between first grade and now?” A lone voice responded, “Life.”

Everyone laughed.

Guys in Ties, an improve comedy troupe, opened a recent leadership meeting we attended with this back and forth. Their message was clear: Your life shapes your willingness to use your voice.

As a leader, your voice is the primary tool you possess to shape and influence outcomes. This becomes even truer when your success is predicated on others’ leadership. Your voice has the power to build competence, delegate responsibilities, ensure accountability, and set direction. Yet, as your career progresses, so does the library of experiences that help you justify the absence, abuse, or ineffective use of your voice.  

Leaders who wrestle with effectively using their voice, often resonate with one or more of the following archetypes.


Life’s Impact On Leadership


Last time I disagreed, he publically reminded me that I am new to the business. Life has taught me to withhold and play it safe, because I am viewed as inexperienced. 


When I’ve shared all the numbers before, he threw me under the bus for not ‘telling the right story’. Life has taught me to dilute my message because the whole got me in trouble.


I am sick of reframing the business case, I think we just fundamentally see the opportunity differently. Life has taught me to avoid because I am too tired to do it right.


They’re not looking for me to be proactive, they just want me to do what they ask. Life has taught me to be cynical because others don’t really mean what they say. 


She’s right, people don’t listen to me and they’re not going to. Life has taught me to collude with other’s perceptions because ‘they know better than me’.

Do any of these archetypes resonate with your current leadership? If so, some reflection and targeted action are in order.

Reflection: When did you lose your voice? Why do you choose to keep it that way?

  • Name a current relationship/situation (e.g., Product Review team meeting; Managing up) and capture the optimal value you bring to it.

  • Identify which archetype(s) you’re most likely to adapt in that leadership context. (You may even want to write your own.)

  • Consider how past life experiences (e.g., a boss who repeatedly criticized you, an important presentation you botched, a mismanaged project, or dealing with a difficult colleague) “warrant” diminished voice in your current context.

  • Determine the extent to which those behaviors are still warranted.

Take Action: Your reflection will likely lead you down one of three paths. In some cases it is necessary to journey down multiple paths in successive order.

Stop Projecting Reasons Not To Use Your Voice

Ensure It’s Safe To Use Your Voice

Build Your Voice To The Requirements

You may find you’re projecting old beliefs into your current context in a way that is adversely impacting your influence (e.g., your current boss is great, but you’re behaving as though s/he is your old boss). In which case, you need to stop projecting to effectively influence.


  • How are the contexts different and warrant new behavior(s)?
  • Create a plan: If you’re a Withholder, capture all your thoughts and ideas beforehand, select those that are essential and commit to sharing them
  • If it’s 1:1, own your development and tell them you’re working to not second guess yourself and bring your full point of view
  • If it’s in a group, and not appropriate to own your development, partner with a trusted colleague on what you want to share
  • In both instances, get feedback on content, approach, and experience

You may be repeating the past (e.g., reporting to a boss who reminds you of an old boss). In which case, you need to ensure a degree of safety or confidence that it won’t go how it has gone in the past, to effectively influence. (This work will likely require multiple, successive conversations.)


  • Revisit the archetypes and behaviors that make your voice ineffective
  • Identify dynamics in the relationship or situation that “trigger” the behavior(s), (e.g., public shaming leads to me diluting and ‘playing it safe’)
  • Create a short list of “when I experience X from you, I am inclined to do Y, and it negatively impacts the outcome by Z”
  • Generate a corresponding set of suggestions that would reframe the dynamic between you
  • Scheduling time (over time) to discuss them and align on a way forward

In some instances, you may find you do not have the skills, knowledge, or experience to effectively influence a desired outcome (e.g., required product knowledge or expertise). In which case, you need to build the competence necessary to effectively influence.


  • Revisit the value that must be created between you/those involved
  • Take a draft pass at the skills, knowledge, experience you believe your “voice” is lacking with regard to creating that value
  • Individually schedule time with your stakeholders (e.g., one or two leaders you respect on the Product Review Team)
  • In those meetings: 1) vet your list with them, 2) brainstorm opportunities for you to close gaps, 3) enlist their continued support in your development
  • Follow up to ensure increased competence is growing your influence

Regaining the ability to Use Your Voice is a noble endeavor. Next time your voice of accountability, competence building, delegation, or vision setting is needed, raise your hand and boldly step in. If we wish to influence others well, we can’t stop singing.

For more on overcoming ineffective leadership you may appreciate this set of short articles titled, What's Your Challenge?

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