WHY GREAT LEADERS ARE GREAT COMMUNICATORS Lucia Dore
To what extent is communication the key to a successful organisation and to great leadership? How does good communication make an organisation great? And what difference does good communication make to the implementation of a public relations strategy?
• Great leaders are great communicators who tell stories
• Great communicators are authentic, believe in what they say and inspire others
• The importance of listening
Communication is one of the top three skills of leadership, according to author, coach and leadership guru, Kevin Murray, who observes on his website: “The best strategy is useless unless you can inspire those around you to deliver it. How good are you at employee engagement?”
Great leaders communicate well not only with co-workers and peers but also with their clients. Through good communication clients know the value of a public relations strategy.
Good communication allows great leaders to identify and surround themselves with the best talent. Great leaders do not doubt their own abilities and want to nurture great talent in others. This is only done if there is good communication within an organisation.
This is true whatever country you live in. For many years, I’ve lived in the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and more recently New Zealand, and constantly communicating with staff (face-to-face as well as through social media) matters wherever you are located.
We must remember though that great communication is a skill, not a gift. It can be learned, whether through formal training with accredited educational institutions or informally through global organisations such as Toastmasters. In this case, it is practice that matters and makes perfect.
Great leaders communicate in the conference hall, the interview room and interact on a daily basis with co-workers.
A few years ago, I co-founded a company in London (powerful-communication.com) that specialises in communication training.
People from all walks of life ask for training - from CEOs to students. Some are already competent speakers while others are fearful of speaking in public.
Through working as a trainer I learnt that good communication is critical in building strong relationships. In turn, these people often become good clients.
The public-speaking phobia comes up again and again. In fact, many surveys show that most people are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of death. It is estimated that 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety or nervousness when public speaking.
Such fear is an obstacle people must overcome if they are to be great leaders, but one that can be dealt with before they even embark on the journey.
A study carried out by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) led to the advent of the excellence theory which shows that there are three primary variables for predicting excellence: communicator knowledge; shared expectations about communication and the character of an organisation.
But the excellence study also shows that communicator expertise is not enough to predict the best practices of public relations.
There must be shared expectations, or a common understanding, between co-workers in an organisation as well as clients, along with a collaborative culture.
Perhaps more importantly organisations with participative cultures are more likely to practice public relations using two-way communication and research, which is more effective in helping an organisation meet its goals and objectives.
Furthermore, the survey shows that greater job satisfaction results in more participative cultures.
What is good communication?
Good communication is all about being confident and building it in others, it employs vocal development, developing vocal variety, presentation skills and handling meetings.
Good communication is distinct from the one-way transaction of expression. It involves the participation of multiple parties that have the willingness to align views and knowledge on a given subject.
And most importantly of all, good communication is when the person delivering the message is authentic. Surveys show again and again that one of the winning factors that make a person a good communicator is “authenticity”.
A great leader is passionate about what she or he does, can inspire others and also engenders trust.
Good communication means speaking in the language of the organisation and communicating with those within it - not speaking “down” to employees or co-workers. Great leaders often don’t know they are great leaders; they simply set examples that others want to follow. They believe in what they do and what they say, they rule by example and others usually want to follow them.
The art of storytelling
One of the best ways of communicating a message is by way of storytelling.
“No doubt about it, the best speakers are good storytellers. The best writers are good storytellers. The best leaders are good storytellers. The best teachers and trainers and coaches are good storytellers. It might even be argued that the best parents are good storytellers. While storytelling is not the only way to engage people with your ideas, it’s certainly a critical part of the recipe,” says Rodger Dean Duncan, a contributor to Forbes magazine in January 2014.
In public relations it is important to engage with both your own organisation and your client’s business, who must understand why there is a public relations strategy in the first place.
While many people have relied on PowerPoint presentations full of data, numbers, statistics and analytics it is the stories of one’s own life, or a client’s life, that usually engages the public more - no matter how simplistic that is.
Take ‘refugees’, for example, a cause I’m involved with in Australasia. It’s the story of each refugee; why they were persecuted and how they escaped that engages the public rather than their contribution to society as a whole.
Perhaps the best communication is when we can convey facts and figures as well as those stories that tell of life’s experiences.
Media training and the context
Good leaders are also aware of their surroundings, both in a physical and organisational sense. They know the context of which they are speaking and the company backstory. These simple things lead to communications success.
Good communication starts with active listening
Listening is one of the most important skills one can have. How well one listens has a major impact on communication, job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.
It also impacts how well you understand and meet the needs of clients.
According to Flora Wilke, EY Associate Director for Global PR - Transaction Advisory Services: ‘Relationships are in the DNA of PR. Having lived in Germany, the United States as well as the United Kingdom, I was exposed to a multicultural environment from an early age. I came to understand that there is a lot that connects us and that listening is key to any meaningful relationships.’
‘During times of uncertainty and globalisation, the future of PR will be increasingly built around holding on to those meaningful relationships to future proof our profession.’