Today’s guest post is by Kevin Murray, author of The Language of Leaders and Chairman of Bell Pottinger – one of the UK’s leading PR agencies. Here’s Kevin:
In three decades of working with Chairmen and CEOs, I honestly cannot recall one who I would have deemed to be stupid. They were all clever people. Yet, when faced with the challenge of change, or a crisis, many succeeded and some failed. Those who failed usually lost their jobs.
I have been a communications adviser to leaders since 1980, working both inside global corporates, and as a consultant. Increasingly, I became intrigued by that X-factor that enabled the winners to succeed. I had my suspicions, but I wanted to validate them, so I went out to 60 chairmen and CEOs to ask them what they had learned about leadership communications during their long and challenging careers.
What they said surprised me. I had expected to hear about how important it was to develop your speaking skills and to be a great orator. Far from it, these leaders spoke about something different – they spoke about the need to be an inspiring communicator.
To be inspiring, however, was not the same as being a great orator. To be inspiring, you had to learn how to be a better listener, you had fundamentally to understand what was in the hearts and minds of the people in your audience, and you had to speak with passion and authenticity.
You could stumble and stutter over your words, but if people saw you speaking to the things you truly believed, and felt that you truly understood them and respected their views, you were far more likely to make the vital connection that would attract them to your vision.
Further research showed me that global HR leaders have recognized that leadership has changed. OUT has gone the command and control style of leadership, and IN has come a new, more empathetic, emotionally intelligent style of leadership where communication becomes one of the top two skills that you need to succeed. (The first is raw intellect and the ability to develop the right strategy.) The ability to understand, motivate and inspire others is the characteristic that is now second most important when recruiting senior leaders.
Great leaders ensure that the right conversations are taking place right across their businesses, for they understand it is those conversations that drive change and ensure progress. Leaders have to learn how to engage people in and through conversations. In The Language of Leaders, the business leaders I’ve interviewed share exactly how they’ve done that.
They have to learn how to tell stories better, and they have to learn how to be themselves better if they want to lead in the radical transparency of the modern world.
The task of a leader is to inspire others to achieve great results. It sounds simple, but leaders today are operating in an incredibly demanding environment. The difference between competent communication and inspiring communication can be the difference between poor performance and outstanding results.
I taped every interview with these leaders, who were from companies like Unilever, Deloitte, Airbus, GlaxoSmithKline, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, SAB Miller, Fluor and Alcatel Lucent. Then, I had every interview transcribed. More than 70 hours of interviews translated into more than 500,000 words of wisdom. The two words that appeared most often were relationships and trust. You cannot lead if you cannot establish relationships of trust, both inside and outside your company.
To do so, you have to bear the following 12 principles in mind. The leaders I spoke to explained:
– Why trust is essential to leadership, why that means you have to be authentic and why you have to learn to be more passionate in your communication,
– The need to articulate a mission that goes beyond profit as a motive,
– How they create leaders throughout their organizations by relentlessly communicating a framework of values that enable action and decision-making,
– Why they put into words a vision of the future which powers all their communication,
– How they bring external views of their organization in to the organization in order to drive change, and
– How they use conversations to engage and motivate people.
They say that if you want to be a more effective communicator, you have to:
– Address the concerns of your audience BEFORE delivering your own messages,
– Learn to listen better and master the most difficult communication skill of all,
– Develop strong points of view on key issues,
– Use more stories to capture hearts and imprint messages on memories,
– Be aware of the power of unintended signals,
– Prepare properly when appearing on public platforms, and
– Keep reviewing and honing your communication skills.
In The Language of Leaders I explore each of these themes, and share the dozens of stories these leaders told me. I firmly believe the 12 principles above is a crucial framework which you will be able to use to guide your own leadership communication.
– Kevin Murray is the Chairman of Bell Pottinger, one of the UK’s leading PR agencies with 20 offices worldwide, including New York and Washington DC. He was previously the Director of Communications for British Airways and is a former national newspaper journalist, magazine publisher and marketing director. His is the author of The Language of Leaders, published by Kogan Page.