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Business leaders must master the art of conversation says Kevin Murray

17th March 2014


As much as 36 per cent of a company's valuation is based on the perceived style and strength of its leaders. This is a finding I came across when researching my new book, Communicate to Inspire – a Guide for Leaders.

I have seen it said that today 65 per cent of the global market’s value isn’t found in a company’s factories, plant, machinery, stock, equipment or real estate, but is determined by its intangible assets such as skills, culture, relationships, reputation and leadership.

Leadership is an intangible asset of huge worth, but it is increasingly damaged due to today’s radical transparency. Trust in leaders is frequently eroded by the millions of minorities who have access to public opinion through the internet, which has brought radical transparency to the way they have to lead. For this reason, the leaders I speak to say that they are operating much closer to the precipice. Reputations today can be lost in seconds.

In a world in which everyone can connect and put up their point of view and criticise, every company must ask – are we doing enough for our new-age leaders? To help them speak the language of trust? In this new era of communications, the number one requirement for success for any leader is now the ability to inspire those around him or her, through great communication – a skill that many leaders lack.

This does not mean that leaders must be a great orators; they don’t have to stand up on a stage and be amazing. Even if they do manage to inspire from the stage, such inspiration would only be transitory.

Inspiring communication that transforms everything, that gets people to change direction and commit with their hearts and souls, only comes from being a great conversationalist. It is through mastering this skill that leaders can effectively engage with people within and outside an organisation and ultimately build trust – the essential prerequisite of success.

We have to help leaders to learn how to have the conversations that matter, the conversations that drive change, the conversations that encourage people to support them or that inspire them to great performance. And they have to have them many times a day, every day, if they want to succeed. When they are not having them themselves, leaders have to ensure that all other leaders in the organisation are.

As we have moved from an age of broadcast to an age of great conversations, we must help leaders to also:

Learn to embrace transparency

Leaders must embrace transparency and work with the raised communication expectations of a digital age. This means they have to put reputation management at the top of their agenda, right up there with the need to build relationships of trust. To do that, leaders must communicate more clearly, more often and with the idea firmly embedded that communication today is about rapidly evolving stories and conversations.

Understand that leadership is about trust

Every day, it seems, we read about further declines in levels of trust. Trust is an emotion, a positive feeling, not the absence of a negative feeling. Most importantly it is about what organisations and leaders do rather than just what they say. When writing my first book, The Language of Leaders, I spoke with Sir Stuart Rose, Chair of Ocado. He said “Leadership is not just about producing the right results. Leadership is about setting the right tone in the organisation. It’s about ethos, it’s about what you stand for, and it’s about trust.”

Recognise that the biggest risk is the destruction of relationships

The thing we forget about trust is that it only occurs in relationships. The worst risk is not the loss of reputation, but rather in the consequences of a bad reputation – the destruction of relationships. And if it is all about relationships, we need to spend more time fundamentally understanding those relationships and the drivers of trust within them. 

If it is all about leadership and communication, then I believe that it boils down to this: are you putting in place the right approach to help your leaders communicate well enough to inspire the people in all key relationships, to commit to visions and goals, and to go that extra mile to achieve superior results?. 

Kevin Murray, chairman of PR agency the Good Relations Group



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