Conversations drive change
By ‘great communicator’, I don’t mean you have to be a great orator or a charismatic speaker. I mean that, in today’s world, you have to be a great conversationalist. You have to learn to have the conversations that matter, the conversations that drive change, the conversations that encourage people to support you or that inspire them to great performance. And you have to have them many times a day, every day, if you want to succeed. When you aren’t having them yourself, you have to ensure that all other leaders in the organization are.
You don’t have to stand up on the stage and be amazing. Even if you did manage to inspire from the stage, such inspiration would only be transitory. Inspiration that transforms everything, that gets people to change direction and commit with their hearts and souls, only comes from constant conversation.
The radical transparency of the modern world has radically changed leadership over the past five years, and has placed huge emphasis on the management of intangible assets such as trust and relationships, which in turn places such a huge emphasis on excellence in communication.
For my first book – The Language of Leaders – I interviewed more than 70 chairs and chief executives of a wide range of global private sector companies, global charities and more than a dozen public sector organizations. Loudly and clearly, I heard that modern leaders have to learn to be much more focused on relationships, inside and outside their companies, and communicate better within those relationships in order to build trust, the essential prerequisite of successful leadership. Organizations that want to survive and thrive in the age of transparency must place the building of trust at the heart of their strategies.
Talk is work
Conversations drive change, and relationships are the engines of your success. These are two such simple but powerful thoughts: Put another way, talk is work and trust is a strategic asset. It is for these reasons that all the leaders I spoke with said that communication was now a ‘top three’ skill of leadership… but they worried that too little training and emphasis is placed on developing this skill in future leaders.
Indeed, a recent study by the Marketing Society and Accenture, after in-depth interviews with 40 CEOs, also identified communication as the third most important attribute of leadership, behind strategic thinking and customer focus. ‘In an age when more people “like” videos on YouTube than vote in elections, it is easy to see how the digital world has empowered the consumer on a mass scale. Increasingly, organizations have less and less control of what is being said about them,’ commented the Marketing Society. Faced with this, it said leaders had to communicate clearly with customers, shareholders, analysts and the media as well as with their workforces in order to motivate and energize.
But, remember this: whatever you promise to people outside your organization, will never be delivered unless you are able to convince and inspire the people inside your organization.
Why? Because employees retain a level of effort and commitment that they give at their own discretion, and only if they are inspired to do so. That ‘discretionary effort’, however, can be the difference between an adequate performance and a great performance – and can be the difference between success and failure for a leader.
In one way or another, every leader I talk with describes a new world of transparency and scrutiny where their reputation is their single most important asset. In a world of 24/7 news, always on social media, of viral storytelling and instant global access to information from anywhere on any device, speed is the new currency of business. Under these conditions, being a leader – wherever you sit in the hierarchy – is a demanding, intense and risky role.