Introduction—The inspiration gap
by Peter Cheese, CEO, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
Leadership in today’s world is more demanding and leaders are being more challenged than ever before. We live in times of great uncertainty and rapid change, with a need for adaptation and innovation on an almost continuous basis in order to ensure our organizations survive and thrive.
Old rules and boundaries are falling away, and disruptive business models, competitors, technologies, and ideas abound. We are seeing new organizational forms and business models; the growth of the network, the wisdom of the crowds, the collaborative and social enterprise. Young people in particular have different expectations and, instead of a job for life, they now talk about a life of jobs, where they have more control of their environment and destiny. Loyalty to the organization (or seemingly remote top leaders) is diminishing, and loyalty is transferring to ourselves or to those closest to us. Diversity in every sense is the norm, with diverse ways of working, diverse teams and individuals, diverse aspirations and expectations.
This changing context means that leadership at all levels becomes harder as we seek to understand and manage these trends, whilst working with more volatility and uncertainty in the economy than most of us have ever encountered. Leadership, as Kevin Murray explains in this book, has never been more tested, nor more important and valuable.
Yet, as the environment for leaders has got tougher, basic trust in leadership is being severely tested, with regular revelations and scandals that have engulfed the banks and other sectors of business, the media, the public sector, politics, and even sport. It’s a fruitful time to be a finger-wagging newspaper columnist. It’s not quite so great if you’re looking for consistent leadership or moral fortitude among the senior ranks of organizations. Sadly, but perhaps not too surprisingly, The Institute of Business Ethics has recorded a 10 per cent drop over the last year in the proportion of the public who believe businesses behave ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ ethically, a view now held by only 48 per cent of people.
The wider concerns are echoed through to internal organizational views of trust. The CIPD has recently released research on trust which found that one in three employees rate their trust in senior managers as weak. The research also found that trust ratings increase with an employee’s seniority, with senior managers far more likely than non-managerial staff to report strong trust between employees and senior management. But then they would, wouldn’t they?
Building on this theme, Kevin’s research on what makes for inspiring leaders and whether leaders themselves are inspiring found similar levels of concern. As he reports in this book, only one in five employees rated their boss as really inspiring, with one in three rating them as uninspiring or worse!
These findings are of real concern given the central importance of trust and engagement to performance, as Kevin amply illustrates. Much more visibility has been given to these themes in recent years, and not before time. Motivated and happy employees, aligned to the purpose and value of the enterprise, will always be more productive. It shouldn’t take much science or data to convince us, but it seems we need to be reminded. Latest research on neuroscience and the newer areas of psychology such as positive psychology and behavioural economics has now started to hit the mainstream – even the UK Government and Number 10 have been talking about national happiness quotients and created a ‘nudge’ unit to focus on how to make large-scale behavioural shifts.
No surprise, then, that senior business leaders themselves point more and more to their concerns about having the right leadership capabilities and talent at all levels, but are also becoming more and more aware of their own role in creating the right cultures, living the corporate values, and engaging their people. Tone from the top and how this is communicated now seems to be the common mantra. Indeed, as Kevin points out, communication is now a top three skill of leadership.
What then is the answer? Well, one thing is for sure, there is no lack of advice. Leadership is a topic that has been more written about than any other theme in business. Amazon shows over 20,000 books currently available on the subject!
In the end, leadership is in large measure about people. About creating and communicating a common sense of purpose, about engaging, about influencing and inspiring, but also about trusting and empowering your teams to work effectively – to succeed, but also at times to fail. We have moved on from a single view of leadership that is about the leader, to one that is about devolved leadership everywhere in organizations. The charismatic leader still exists, but we can see many other types and models that are highly effective in creating a real sense of engagement and empowerment in those around them. But how do you do this in a way that is compelling and effective?
In Kevin Murray’s research and experience, what he has consistently found and points to is that it takes excellence in communication. In this and many other pieces of research on trust, when employees are asked what they looked for in building trust in their leaders, communication rings through with common observations such as being more approachable, consistent, and speaking and acting with honesty and integrity. And in particular the recognition that communication is a two-way process, that and good leaders are also great listeners.
Creating inspiration through communication, and building a consistent voice for leaders that inspires confidence and trust, must now work through many channels and forums. There are so many new ways of communicating and connecting, with multiple channels to speak through, and importantly to listen through. Twitter has only been around since 2006 and yet has over 500 million users tweeting 1 billion thoughts, comments, jokes and observations every five days. It is now a regularly accepted forum for leaders to talk through and engage. We have blogging, LinkedIn and a host of other ways to express and expose ourselves.
Employees, customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders all now expect to see and hear leaders through these channels. They expect leaders to be ‘open’, ‘authentic’, to reveal the whole person or ‘be themselves better’, and to listen more, not be just a scripted voice box.
This is particularly true for the younger generation, so called Gen Y, who are highly active themselves in these channels and communities and expect their bosses to be too. I have found that myself, and despite my belief in all these forms of communication, had to be somewhat dragged over the threshold in to Twitterland. Once in there it was fine, but those of us not born in to a digital world are more likely to find this daunting and unnatural, at least to start with. Kevin’s chapter on why leaders need to engage with social media is a particularly helpful and important reminder for all of us.
What, then, should we communicate? Let’s start with communicating our meaning and purpose and our values, at a personal level, but also of course at the organizational level. Without this understanding and employees’ alignment to these at all levels, we lack the golden thread of engagement. As Kevin has so often found, the best leaders bring these to life with stories and examples and they visibly celebrate behaviours and actions that reflect the purpose and values.
This book then is a great insight on how leaders should communicate and how to inspire. It builds on the success of his last book The Language of Leaders. There was much in his first book for us all to use, learning from many diverse leaders in diverse organizations. They all shared many common perspectives, but also reflected their own personal way of communicating, of inspiring and of engaging. In this follow up book, Communicate to Inspire, Kevin has been able to pull all these learnings together into models that frame the good practices for us to digest and build from.
If trust and inspiration really are in such short supply, then this book is not only extremely timely, but critically necessary.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
The CIPD is the professional body for HR and people development. Having over 130,000 members internationally – working in HR, learning and development, people management and consulting across private businesses and organizations in the public and voluntary sectors.
Introduction—The inspiration gap
Inspiring leadership communication is about getting others to believe in your cause, believe in themselves, and then achieve more than they thought was possible. We’ve never needed it more. Yet research shows there is a growing gap between bosses and employees when it comes to perceptions of inspirational leadership. How good are you?
To be successful, leaders must inspire others to achieve great results.
How ironic then that few leaders are taught the critical communication skills that enable them to be inspiring.
The simple truth is this: How well you perform as a leader, will depend on how well as a leader you communicate. You can have the best plan, the best resources and the best people, but if you don’t communicate well, you won’t persuade people to your cause, and you will fail. It is that simple.
Yet any leader can easily derive competitive advantage by learning how to be more inspiring. It is much easier than you might think.
To do this, you need to be more authentic, more empathetic and more engaging. You need to learn how to tell stories and how to truly listen. You need to understand why you should stand up for your point of view, and be hyper-aware of the unconscious signals you send. You need to learn how to articulate an inspiring vision and how to lead the critical conversations that change everything. Together, this mix of communication skills can provide the super-fuel that will enable you to be hugely effective.
There has never been a more demanding environment. Today, leaders are living in a fishbowl where they are under more scrutiny than ever, where every action is transparently obvious and where the people they depend on for success have greater expectations of leaders than ever. Capturing hearts is now more important than capturing minds, though both still have to be done. But how do you achieve this?
Answer: through more inspiring communication. By being more inspiring, you can positively influence people, change their behaviours and achieve results. That is why communication is today one of the top three skills of leadership.
My aim in this book is to share some practical tools, and give you some tried-and-tested guides to being a more inspirational leader, and a more effective communicator.
Is all this really necessary?
Yes, undoubtedly. There is a significant inspiration gap that exists between leaders and followers, one that must be bridged if we are to grow and prosper.
I recently asked many hundreds of leaders from around the world to rate themselves on their Leadership Inspiration Quotient. They gave themselves – on average – a mark of about 7/10, which is less than brilliant but still a fairly good assessment. I guess no leader wants to be thought of as less than inspiring.
What mark would you give yourself?
If, like the hundreds I have surveyed, you give yourself 7/10 (or more), you may be unaware of your biggest challenge.
Here’s the problem. Most employees, when asked how inspiring their bosses are, give them a significantly lower mark. On average, they give them just over 5/10. Only one in five says their boss is inspiring. Why? Because most leaders do not really know what it means to be inspiring.
Since the publication of my first book, The Language of Leaders, I have given dozens of talks in many countries around the world. At many leadership conferences, I see the output of brainstorming sessions where people have been asked to name leaders they have found most inspiring. Often, they are asked to put up photographs of these leaders and name a characteristic about them that they found inspiring.
As I walk around these rooms, I see the faces of President John F Kennedy, President Reagan, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Indira Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and many other prominent political and religious leaders. These people were more than inspiring. They were awe-inspiring. Most commanded a world stage and were commanding orators. But, if this is the concept we have in our minds when we think of being an inspiring leader, it is entirely the wrong concept on which to model our own leadership style.
After all the work I have done with leaders over the past two decades, after all the interviews and all the research, I have come to believe that the best definition of leadership to which we should aspire comes from Lao Tsu, a philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching. He said: ‘A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.’
There is a huge difference between being seen as inspiring and making others feel inspired. If you take only one thing away from this book, I hope it is this: inspiring leadership communication is not about great oratory or great charisma; rather it is about getting others to believe in themselves and believe in your cause, and then achieve more than they thought was possible.
If you stop for a moment and think about your role as a leader, there’s nothing more important than inspiring others. To achieve your goals, you have to get others to perform. How well they perform will be a function of how you make them feel. It is all about how you make them feel.
What influences the way they feel? At best, a powerful and uplifting speech will provide transitory inspiration. To be constantly inspired, they need something else. This ‘something else’ comes from how well you listen and how much interest you show in them.
It comes from the stories you tell, the behaviours you exhibit and, thereby, the signals you send. It stems from the beliefs you hold dear and make clear. It comes from their belief in your integrity and your values. It is delivered by the meaning and context you provide.
It is in the passion you dare to put on display, in the words you use and the subjects you focus on. It is in the possibilities you see and speak about and the conversations you stimulate and lead. It is in your point of view and in the call to action that you use to rally people to your cause.
Most of all, it is in the way you make followers feel whenever they talk with you.
Here’s the question I most often get asked: Are leaders born or can they be taught? I believe that anyone can lead. All you have to do is want it enough. You have to want to achieve something, to make a difference. It could be something relatively small, like wanting to improve a process or to make a small change that will improve the customer experience. It could be to lead a global organization.
Anything you set your heart and mind on. If you want it enough, your passion will act as a magnet to the like-minded, and you will be able to inspire the support of a team. So yes, you can be taught!
Today, leadership is everywhere, and must be everywhere to cope with the incredible speed of the modern world. In a radically connected and transparent society – where everything moves at the speed of light – the only response is to build more agility into our organizations. And that means more leadership, everywhere.
As you will see in the following chapters, value today increasingly comes from intangibles: ‘soft assets’ such as relationships, culture and values, reputation and trust, knowledge, skills, processes and systems.
Perhaps, though, the greatest intangible assets of all are leadership and communication, because they deliver all of the above.
This is why I have written this book – in order to help make leaders more effective, by making them better, more inspiring communicators.
If you want to become a more inspiring leader, you have first to become more audience-centric, so that you can connect better with the people you need to influence, and build and maintain relationships and trust.
You need to learn how to more effectively bring the outside world into your organization in order to drive positive change.
You have to be clear on your own purpose and values so that you can be more passionate about what matters, and be more authentic. You have to learn how this is integral to trust, which is the bedrock of leadership.
You need to understand the compelling power of a shared purpose and shared values. And you need to understand how to combine this with the precision of a clear vision of success.
You need to learn how better to engage your employees, by holding more powerful conversations, more systematically.
To do that, you have to learn to become a better listener, so that you can relate better to people and get more relevant, more timely information, in order to make better-informed decisions.
You have to become more conscious of the inadvertent signals you send that can overwhelm your words and sabotage your plans.
You have to learn how to articulate a powerful point of view, and how to tell more inspirational stories. At the same time you have to understand the persuasive impact of a single word. The more senior you get, the more effective you have to become on public platforms. You need to learn the power of social media in modern leadership.
You need to become more conscious of the need for great communication throughout your organization, and the need to strive constantly to become better at it.
You need to learn the language of leaders.
The dictionary defines language as ‘a system of communication used by a country or community’. I believe there is a system of communication used by the community of people who describe themselves as leaders.
The system has 12 principles, with one underpinning essential, and this book is designed to show you how to deliver effectively against each of these. There are many books available on how to be a good listener, or how to tell stories, or how to be better at leadership conversations. This, I believe, is the only one that integrates all of these into a single system.
Are you an engaging leader who can create and engage followers and, through them, a super-performing organization? Do you understand the difference between employees seeing you as inspiring and actually feeling inspired themselves?
I know that the outstanding leaders in my life were the ones who inspired me to be my very best. They liberated me to achieve results beyond the goals I had set myself. They connected with me on an emotional level and made me feel appreciated, talented, responsible and accountable. I trusted them and could predict how they would behave and how they would react to issues. They loved hearing my thinking on challenges we faced, and that influenced their decisions.
They guided me, encouraged me and supported me when the going got tough. I knew what they were trying to achieve, why it was important, and what my role was in helping them to achieve their goals. Most of the time, they achieved their aims. They communicated brilliantly and selflessly and I – like other members of the team – felt inspired.
These bosses learned how to create outrageously successful working relationships. This book is designed to help you do the same.