If you plan to get to the top of your business, you need a talent for business as well as a talent for communication. Even if you don’t end up being the chief of the company, learning the secrets of good leadership helps you to provide this to your team, to your own CEO and to your clients, so that they can run the business effectively.
While interviewing top CEOs for his book The Language of Leaders, Kevin Murray, chairman of PR firm Bell Pottinger, was able to pinpoint the communication skills good leaders need. If you wish to head a PR agency, Murray says that being good at your job may be enough to get you the ultimate promotion, but that‘s just the beginning; “You rise to the top because you’re a good PR person, not because you’re a good leader". Murray points out that being a leader demands a different range of talents. For example, you need to have a strategy for growing the business, he finds that "having a clear business strategy goes hand in hand with having a communications strategy".
Whether you are aiming to lead a PR firm, or sit on the board of another business, the magic ingredient you need for success is passion. Murray asks, “Are you really passionate? Because that’s what will inspire others.” He also says that you need to know how to listen; “It’s not enough to craft messages, you need to be an inspiring communicator. It’s not about just being a great orator, you need to listen and learn".
In all, Murray identifies twelve key communication skills you need to possess if you want to rise to the top of your business, and help it rise to the top of its sector:
1. Draw on your passion to inspire others. Others will only change their behaviour if you change the way they feel. You have to learn how to convey your feelings, so that others are inspired by the depth of your passion.
2. Have a strong sense of purpose. Leaders know exactly what they feel is right. This makes for speedier decision making as well as ensuring statements are authentic.
3. Be focused on the future. Leaders have a clear understanding of where the business is going. They use this future knowledge to manage the present.
4. Get outside. Put yourself in other people’s shoes and always keep the outside world in mind. How does it feel to be a client? How does it feel to receive your service?
5. Engage. Engagement is the Holy Grail of top communicators. You can only engage people if you’re in constant conversation with them.
6. Be audience-centric. What is on the minds of the people you’re speaking to? Show people you really value them, both your employees and your customers.
7. Listen. How many times are you told to listen? When you listen first, and react with appropriate actions, you create enormous goodwill.
8. Have the courage of your convictions. You need to have strong views if you want to influence people. Ideally, these views bring together your purpose and values and show why it is to everyone’s benefit if they do things your way.
9. Use stories. Use the power of emotive storytelling to communicate. Often it’s hard to explain your thoughts in a rational way, but stories have a way of getting to the nub of a problem and showing how it can be solved.
10. Give out the right signals. Inadvertent signals, like looking grumpy, can say more than a thousand words. Make sure you use positive body language. Look at people directly, don’t be distracted when you are in meetings with them. Make sure you take a stance on issues such as bullying in the organisation.
11. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Never try to wing it, it won’t work. Some audiences (journalists for example!) like to pore over every word you utter.
12. Never be satisfied. Even the most experienced and successful leaders constantly strive to improve.