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The purpose of leadership

The dictionary defines language as a system of communication.

What then is the system of communication used by leaders?

The leaders I interviewed said that the purpose of leadership communication is to influence and inspire (in order to achieve great results). To do so requires you to deliver 12 key components of inspirational communication.

The 12 principles are shown in Figure 3.1 overleaf.

Figure 3.1: The 12 principles

1. Learn how to be yourself, better, and reveal more of yourself in the way you communicate, in order to build trust.

2. Give voice to a compelling purpose and a powerful set of values, to create a framework that enables empowerment, action and decision making.

3. Combine this with a vivid picture of the future, which you communicate relentlessly to drive behaviours in the present.

4. Keep your people focused on the key relationships that your organization depends on for success; use those insights to drive change, and make building trust in those relationships a priority.

5. Make ‘engagement’ a strategic goal, and use conversations to engage.

6. Become a fanatic about understanding audiences, before trying to communicate with them.

7. Listen in new and powerful ways, and learn to ask the right questions.

8. Prepare a potent point of view to communicate your messages.

9. Use more stories and anecdotes to inspire the right behaviours.

10. Be aware of the signals you send through your body language and your behaviours, which can overwhelm your words.

11. Prepare properly for public platforms – your reputation is at stake.

12. Learn, rehearse, review, improve – always strive to be a better communicator.

Above all, make the building and maintaining of trust a strategic goal.

Why are these principles so important? Let’s look at them one by one.

Be yourself better

Authenticity as a leader is crucial. Followers will not commit if they do not trust you and believe that you have integrity. So, even if you are a highly introverted individual, you will have to learn to speak with more passion, talk to your values and stand up more often to speak to your beliefs. Followers must feel your passion and believe that you believe. When you are clear with yourself about the things you really care about, you cannot help but talk to them with passion.

Most leaders have not spent the time articulating those beliefs, yet the ability to draw on and display that passion and commitment, consistently and predictably, counts for more than skills at oratory and communicates more effectively than even the most perfectly crafted words. You have to be true to yourself, but you also have to learn to ‘perform’ yourself better.

Purpose and values

Too often, leaders use financial or numbers-based goals to motivate people. They are more comfortable being rational and objective. Too often, followers say they don’t get out of bed in the morning to achieve financial or other numbers-based objectives. They come to work and want to be inspired by a sense of doing something important, something that makes a difference.

A strong sense of mission can help shape decisions to be made throughout the organization, and is even more empowering when coupled with a set of values that your people know to be true. In this world of radical transparency, values have assumed far greater importance, for many reasons. Values define how people in the organization behave in pursuit of their objectives, and their actions define a business to the outside world. Those intangible values – often dismissed as ‘soft and fluffy’ – translate into actions on the ground, which translate into hard numbers in the books. How the mission and values are expressed is crucial.

Future focus

Every leader I spoke to used the future to drive the present. They knew precisely where they wanted to be in a given timescale, even if they did not know exactly how to get there. They were never satisfied with the status quo, and their restlessness was a tangible force. Every question they asked had to do with how people were progressing to the goals, and they kept those goals under constant review.

They painted a vivid picture of success, often describing the future in both rational terms (the numbers) and emotive terms (how it would feel for all concerned). This bringing together of the rational and the emotional was key to inspiring people. Fusing the future vision (what success will look and feel like) to the purpose (what important thing we are here to do) and to the values (how we do it) was what stirred hearts and minds. This future, though, had to be expressed in benefit terms for all the people with a vested interest in the performance of the organization – customers, shareholders, local communities, suppliers and partners and, most importantly, employees.

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