For my books on leadership, I have now been fortunate enough to interview 120 CEO’s. When I asked them about the most important skills of leadership, communication always featured as a top 3 skill.
Often, it was the second most important (behind strategic thinking) and sometimes the most important.
As you might imagine, I also always asked what else they were looking for in the leaders they hired in their own organizations. The answers were very consistent.
Most often mentioned, in order of priority, were:
•raw intellect and the ability to think strategically, and with clarity;
•the ability to choose the right people and then align them to a cause;
•the ability to inspire people and take them with you;
•a good communicator, a good listener;
•a strong sense of mission;
•integrity, authenticity, strong values, honesty, openness and curiosity;
•domain excellence (knowledge and experience of the business they lead); and of course,
•numeracy, and a focus on performance and results.
High on their list of desired skills and attributes are many of the same things wanted by followers: a future focus; strategic ability; a sense of mission; strong values; honesty; the ability to inspire; authenticity; integrity.
Authenticity came up a great deal. When I asked what it was and why it was necessary, here is what they said: ‘It is about being true to yourself. And true to others.’
To do this, they said you have to know your own strengths and weaknesses. You have to be clear about the beliefs that underpin your strengths. You must figure out your sense of purpose. Articulate all of the above. Only then can you talk from the heart and be true to yourself.
The leaders also said you cannot lead if you are not trusted, and people cannot trust you if they don’t know who you are, so you have to be visible – show up and be accessible. You have to talk about your values, you have to treat people with respect, as one adult to another, and be interested in them and always admit to mistakes or that you don’t know all the answers.
Most of all, you have to be a model of the behaviours you want. The signals you send in your body language, the way you dress, the look on your face, the policy you don’t enforce, all communicate more powerfully than the words you speak.
Language is a system, the CEOs said, and not just a set of words.
My research with them has been about trying to understand the system they used to be more inspiring, to engage employees, to enable people to super-perform.
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:
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 – especially customers; use those insights to drive change, and make building trust in those relationships a priority.
5.Make ‘engagement’ a strategic goal, and use powerful, courageous 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 every public platform, internal or external – your credibility is at stake.
12.Learn, rehearse, review, improve – humility is a major asset. Always strive to be a better communicator.
Above all, make the building and maintaining of trust a strategic goal.