The concept of leadership has a history as long as that of human society. So has advice on being a leader. Theories of leadership, and definitions of good or bad leadership, continue to fill books and seminar agendas. For business people looking for inspiration, there are lessons ready to be dispatched from the worlds of sport, politics or war. There will of course never be a consensus on what leadership should or should not be, because style, circumstance and taste will always make it a matter of opinion. The precise form of leadership will always be open to interpretation, but the roles of a leader will nearly always look quite similar. Clearly, those at the very top of an organisation are those most closely associated with leadership. But it is possible to lead from just about any point within a hierarchy, and the communications skills required of leaders, or those who will one day become leaders, apply to a group much wider than those around the boardroom table. A leader’s communications portfolio must include the skills to achieve several disparate objectives:
- Represent the organisation to the media Corporate communications
- Represent the organisation’s products or services to customers Commercial communications
- Galvanise and deliver performance from the organisation Employee communication
- Sell the organisation to investors Financial communications
- Negotiate the best possible regulatory and policy environment Political communications
- Navigate through difficulties when they occur Crisis communication
Each of these roles provides distinct challenges. But a truly effective leader not only has the right plan to deliver each of these elements, but a thread that runs through them. This thread must demonstrate the leader’s character, values and vision. A properly communicated leadership, therefore, starts with identification of the person with the organisation. The audience needs to recognise that connection, and be able to make out the culture and ethos that motivate both. But while that culture might be relatively static, the leader’s task is to show how he or she is changing things and making progress. That sense of continual vision and drive is what really convinces. All of this can only be made possible through finding a voice. The leader’s challenge is not to broadcast his or her opinions and character, but to let them come out in a conversation. Without building a set of relationships with the various overlapping audiences, no leader can really convince. So engaging in a richer discussion and demonstrating the ability to listen and learn can be transformative. Some people find all of this easier than others. But all can improve. It is not the flair, or manner, or natural ability that ultimately makes a difference. It is the thought and preparation that goes into the programme, and the cleanliness of execution.