Harnessing the Power of Effective Communication

From CIO Business Review – Top 10 Most Inspiring People in Leadership Consulting 2023

In today’s fast-paced world, communication has become more important than ever. Whether you are a business leader, a public figure, or simply someone who wants to make a difference, the ability to communicate effectively is essential. And when it comes to mastering this skill, Sally Williamson is the name to know.

As the president and founder of Sally Williamson & Associates (SW&A), Sally has spent more than three decades coaching leaders and teams to deliver impactful messages that resonate with audiences. By coaching clients to organize ideas with a focus on listener expectations, Sally helps communicators develop compelling storylines that engage and influence audiences in any situation.

Taking Steps to Bridge the Gap

Sally’s passion has always been communication, which began with her interest in public relations and journalism. She learned to write with a listener in mind and had a growing fascination with business and business leaders. As she observed how business decisions were made, Sally noticed commonalities in why ideas failed and she soon realized the correlation between individuals who could communicate effectively and those who could not. Sally knew that this was an area where she could make a significant difference, so she shifted her focus to executive coaching. And she began to develop a methodology and supporting tools to help others communicate to achieve their goals.

Building the Business

Sally began the firm as a solo entrepreneur with a keen interest in the impact of communication on business outcomes and a desire to help individuals influence results. The first clients were enterprise sales teams who recognized the importance of coaching to create a winning presentation, and the coaching worked remarkably well.

By 2004, Sally had assembled a team, and SW&A opened its first brick-and-mortar office to host workshops and coaching sessions. As SW&A’s reputation grew, success attracted more success, and the SW&A team continued to expand, with the development of a coaching curriculum and the launch of Tailored Programs across nearly every industry and every function in the corporate world.

Today, SW&A is a consulting firm that helps managers and leaders become persuasive communicators. Its approach shifts communication from a technique-based toolkit to an intention-led methodology that empowers anyone to become more compelling in what they say and how they say it.

Although the firm’s mission remains the same, the skills it teaches have significantly expanded, enabling the team to solve client problems today and anticipate communication needs in new contexts.

Leading with Determination

If Sally had to be described in one word, it would be determined. As the head of the firm, she cannot oversee every aspect of the company’s operations, but she still cares deeply about it. Sally believes that her primary responsibility is to instill that same level of caring in every member of the team. To achieve this, she splits her time between managing some of the more complex projects the firm takes on and supporting other team members to ensure that they bring their best work to every engagement.

Sally’s workdays are never typical, which keeps her work challenging and rewarding. Every client presents a new challenge and a unique situation. Some days, she spends up to 12 hours coaching individuals and then works under a tight deadline to ensure that they are ready for a presentation. On other days, she may deliver a full-day workshop to a small group or a keynote presentation to a large audience. But every day brings the joy and passion of helping others leverage communication to influence and connect with others.

Addressing Major Issues for Impactful Change

SW&A prides itself on embodying its values through its actions, methods, and team collaboration. The company’s competitive advantage stems from its genuine desire to make a positive impact and its dedication to continuing until that goal is achieved. This approach is reflected in their coaching style, which prioritizes adapting instruction to best fit the individual’s needs.

As society and the business landscape have evolved, SW&A recognizes the need to address sensitive and critical human issues in business settings. While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to solve challenges and evolve cultures. It will require thoughtful communication and authentic and sincere engagement from leaders. Sally hopes to continue to help leaders advance culture change and make a real difference.

Embracing Life Fully to Live with Fulfilment

Balance varies depending on your stage in life. Sally was fortunate enough to prioritize raising a family and during that time, family took precedence over work. She made trade-offs and missed opportunities on the professional side because she prioritized her personal life. Although she missed some significant professional moments along the way, she was able to reset the balance as her children grew older, and she made building her business her top priority. Today’s professional settings are much more flexible and allow men and women to balance priorities and take the initiative to define how aspects of the career journey fit within their life.

As a leader, Sally strives to support each employee on their unique journey. Some are still developing their careers, while others see SW&A as their final chapter. Her aim is to create a culture that allows for all of it and one way they do that is taking the time to celebrate each other frequently.

Gaining Wisdom Through Overcoming Challenges

Through her experiences, Sally has gained knowledge from every challenge she has faced. While reflecting on some of the more difficult situations, she has come to realize the value of hindsight and objective analysis. Despite her small business, Sally’s clients are often large corporations, and sometimes individuals make choices that don’t seem like the right ones through SW&A’s lens. Then, according to Sally, “Over time as more pieces fall into place, we see the full picture and can understand why a poor decision was made. Several years ago, my mantra to my clients and to myself became: ‘everything makes sense.’  If you’re in a situation that doesn’t make sense, you’re missing information. And I’ve learned to seek that missing information or simply move on knowing that it will be revealed eventually.”

Success Hinges on Effective Communication

According to Sally, success for any coach, whether they are coaching communication skills or tennis skills, is measured by their clients’ takeaways. Although effective communication is well-understood, its value is only realized when one can impart it to others. She says, “We see initial success when we improve someone’s confidence or strengthen their impact. And over time, I’ve seen the value of that success reinforced as clients come back again and again because they value your input and partnership.”

Expanding the Reach

Over the last few years, many businesses have faced unprecedented challenges and opportunities, and SW&A was no exception. This compelled her team to reconsider the business’s tools and restructure some of their offerings. It also opened up new opportunities for them to transform communication from being just a skill they teach to becoming a final product they can offer. Apart from coaching individuals to be effective communicators, SW&A now helps companies improve their communication in various situations and uses their expertise to bring teams and ideas together to drive impact.

Looking ahead, SW&A has planned to expand their communication offerings over the next five years. They also aim to publish two new books and develop programs that leverage the insights from these books to influence and impact new communication situations.