1. Be Yourself Better
“Be yourself better” is the idea that a leader inspires most when he or she reveals more of themselves, in order to build trust. Authenticity as a leader is crucial. Leaders who do this speak with passion, and stand up for their beliefs. They are clear about the things they really care about. The ability to draw on and display that passion and commitment, consistently and predictably, counts for more than skills at oratory and communicates more effectively than even the most perfectly crafted words.
On the whole, to what extent would you say you inspire people by communicating with authentic passion and integrity?
2. Mission & Values
Too often, leaders use financial or numerical goals to motivate people. But few are motived by objectives of this nature. People are more likely to want to come to work and be inspired by a sense of doing something important, something that makes a difference. A strong mission helps shape decisions, and when coupled with a set of values (which people know to be true) defines how people behave and drives the right behaviour for the right results.
Overall, how often do you talk about the organisation’s purpose and values, and how the team’s work connects to it?
3. Future Focus
Good leaders use the future to drive the present. They track progress against future goals and paint a vivid picture of success in both rational and emotional terms. They also express that future in terms of benefits to all stakeholders: customers, shareholders, employees, local communities, suppliers and partners of the organisation or team.
How frequently do you talk about the future and use that to help people understand what they need to do to make it happen?
4. Outside In
Successful leaders know that strong external relationships are key to the success of the organisation. They keep a close eye on the state of relationships, and are constantly bringing stories of success and failure into the organisation to keep everyone focused on what needs to improve. This outside-in approach helps narrow the reputation gap and ensures trust remains high.
Overall, how often would you say you have an outside-in focus, fostering good relations?
Employee engagement happens via meaningful conversations that help employees understand the big picture, their role, and what they need to do. In most organisations these conversations are neglected, or of poor quality, which inhibits employee discretionary effort.
How frequently do you have really deep and meaningful conversations about the organisation, where it is going, and what people need to do to deliver?
In organisations, communication is about changing behaviours. To do this, leaders need to be audience-centric, and relate to people’s concerns and issues. Good communicators start from the audience’s perspective in order to get attention and achieve traction.
In general, how often do you take time to truly understand the audience perspective and discuss issues important to them?
Sometimes the simple act of listening is inspirational in itself. By listening, leaders can remove barriers, pick up good ideas, create goodwill and create an environment where people can speak up without fear of repercussions. But great listening is hard: you have to listen beyond the words, show you understand and ask great questions, unleashing curiosity.
How frequently would you say you really take time to deeply listen to people to understand their situation?
8. Point of View
The best leaders have a potent point of view, and it is often the person with the strong point of view who wields the most influence. These leaders take a position, are courageous and stand up for what they believe is right. The idea point of view brings together purpose, values, behaviours, and helps convince people of the benefits of your approach.
To what extent would you say you speak out clearly and strongly on issues that are important to you and the organisation?
Leaders can use stories or anecdotes, knowing that as humans we are wired to listen, imaginatively, when we are told stories. Good stories get under the cynical radar and touch hearts. Backed up by facts to keep our rational sides happy, stories have the power to move people.
How often do you use stories and anecdotes to get a message across?
Actions speak louder than words. Being a leader means looking, acting, walking and talking like a leader. Great leaders communicate through signals and ensure their body language, things they do, and how they work, is all consistent. It is too easy for a leader to undermine his or her message with a mis-timed frown, inconsistent behaviour, a look of frustration or saying one thing and doing another.
Overall, how often would you say there is consistency between your words, actions and body language?
11. Public Platforms
Many a leader has had their reputation dented because they have not prepared properly for public speaking. Coaching helps, but practice makes perfect and rehearsal is the best practice.
How effective are you when speaking in front of a large audience/public platform?
12. Learn, Rehearse, Review, Improve
If you strive to be an excellent communicator, you will become a better, more effective leader. Effective leaders focus on continuous improvement, fuelled by full and frank feedback on each and every performance. They are always looking to get better and deliver inspiring leadership.
How often do you review your managers’ communication performance and offer training to improve?
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Thank you for completing the questions to find out if you are an inspiring leader and communicator.
The diagram features the 12 principles of leadership communication.
Click on the sections to find out more.
Green means you are doing well in this area. Grey indicates the areas where you are performing adequately. Red highlights the skills you need to address.
Be Yourself Better
Authenticity in a leader is crucial. Followers will not commit if they do not trust you and believe that you have integrity. So, even if you are a highly introverted individual, you will have to learn to speak with more passion, talk to your values, and stand up more often to speak to your beliefs. Followers must feel your passion, and believe that you believe. When you are clear with yourself about the things you really care about, you cannot help but talk to them with passion. Most leaders have not spent the time articulating those beliefs, yet the ability to draw on and display that passion and commitment, consistently and predictably, counts for more than skills at oratory, and communicates more effectively than even the most perfectly crafted words. You have to be true to yourself, but you also have to learn to 'perform' yourself better.
Mission & Values
Too often, leaders use financial or numerical goals to motivate people. They are more comfortable being rational and objective. Too often, followers say they don't get out of bed in the morning to achieve financial or other numerical objectives. They come to work and want to be inspired by a sense of doing something important, something that makes a difference. A strong sense of mission can help shape decisions to be made throughout the organ- ization, and is even more empowering when coupled with a set of values which your people know to be true. In this world of radical transparency, values have assumed far greater importance, for many reasons. Values define how people in the organization behave in pursuit of their objectives, and their actions define a business to the outside world. Those intangible values - often dismissed as 'soft and fluffy' - translate into actions on the ground, which translate into hard numbers in the books.
Every leader I spoke to used the future to drive the present. They knew precisely where they wanted to be in a given timescale, even if they did not know exactly how to get there. They were never satisfied with the status quo, and their restlessness was a tangible force. Every question they asked had to do with how people were progressing to the goals, and they kept those goals under constant review. They painted a vivid picture of success, often describing the future in both rational terms (the numbers) and emotive terms (how it would feel for all concerned). This bringing together of the rational and the emotional was key to inspiring people. Fusing the future vision (what success will look and feel like) to the purpose (what important thing we are here to do) and to the values (how we do it) was what stirred hearts and minds. This future, though, had to be expressed in benefit terms for all the people with a vested interest in the performance of the organization - customers, shareholders, local communities, suppliers and partners and, most importantly, employees.
Bring the outside In
Leaders have to live outside their organizations, constantly bringing stories of success and failure in external relationships into the organization to keep everyone fixed on what needs to improve. Successful leaders know that relationships are the engines of success; they keep a close eye on the state of all key relationships, and keep their enterprise focused on those relation- ships as well. You have to set up 'quivering antennae', as one leader described it - a radar system that keeps you in touch with the outside world. Too often I heard about the 'reputation gap' - the difference between the promise the business made and the experience customers or stakeholders actually received. Narrowing that gap, or even managing it away, is the goal if you want to be trusted. And you do want to be trusted. Trust is now the most valuable but most hidden asset on your balance sheet. Leaders are increasingly looking to make trust a strategic goal, measured and managed as preciously as any other key asset.
More and more leaders are now measuring levels of employee engagement, and using this measurement as a strategic tool to find the ways to keep people motivated and committed to the cause. Study after study has shown that companies with high levels of engagement among employees outperform their competitors, by some margin. Engagement is achieved through conver- sations - structured, potent conversations which allow employees to fully understand the big objective, and work out with their leaders what they have to do to help achieve the goals. It is in these conversations that the rubber hits the road, where the plan gets traction. Too often, these conversations are neglected, and middle managers are neither trained for nor measured on their ability to hold these critical conversations. Worse, top management doesn't check on the quality of those conversations, or seek to get the feed- back from those conversations in a systematic way.
Let us be clear: you have not communicated well if people have not heard you, have not understood you and do not feel motivated to think differently and act differently as a result of your words. You may have stood up and talked at them, but communication has only taken place when your words have had an impact. In any enterprise, leadership communication is all about achieving big goals. It is about changing behaviours. People listen from behind their own filters - filters which may be cultural or emotional, or they may be in place because of people's unique perceptions or even misunder- standings. You have to talk to them about their concerns, their issues, before you can be understood on your own. Every leader interviewed for this book, without exception, spoke of the need to be audience centric in communica- tion, and to recognize that, when it comes to communication, it is all about the audience. You have to set out to achieve change in how they think, feel and act, but that requires you to know how they think, feel and act now.
Quite often, the people I interviewed treated the subject of listening as if it were somehow distinct from communicating. They rated it an essential skill of leadership, possibly the hardest to perfect. Sometimes the simple act of listening, they said, is an act of inspiration in itself. 'You have to give people a damn good listening to.' There is something more fundamental at work here, though, and I call it the listening contract - first you have to listen, if you want to be heard. When you listen and then respond with actions that remove barriers, or pick up on good ideas, you create enormous goodwill and demonstrate you are on their side, particularly when you encourage people to open up, and create an environment where people can bring you bad news, express their frustrations and voice their concerns without fear of repercussions. You have to listen beyond the words, into the motives and agendas, into the context, into the performance KPIs and the financial numbers and the mood, and you have to show you understand, even if you don't agree. You have to ask great questions, and learn to unleash your curiosity and interest in people. It really shows.
Point of View
The best leaders have a potent point of view, and it is always the person with the strong point of view who influences the group, who wins the day. As a leader, you are going to have to stand up and give your point of view, time and time again. You will have to take a position on issues, be courageous, and stand up for what you believe to be right. Too few leaders think about developing points of view - yet, when well articulated, these can help you win friends and influence people, and gain a stronger voice in shaping the future. In a world where people trust the motives, judgement and competence of business leaders less now than just five years ago, shouldn't we be talking to those issues more often, with more transparency, more conviction and, yes, passion? The ideal point of view should therefore bring together your purpose and your values, highlight your behaviours and draw attention to the benefits of doing things your way. And it should call people to action. Powerful stuff.
Stories and Anecdotes
Getting people to listen to you is tough enough, but getting them to sit up and take notice, and then remember what you have to say is a supreme challenge. Every leader uses stories, knowing that we are wired to listen, imaginatively, when we are told stories. Good stories get under the cynical radar and touch hearts. Backed up by facts to cover off the mind, stories have the power to move people. The best stories tell us about customer experiences, good and bad, or make heroes out of employees delivering the values of the organization, or show up the frustrations of workers unable to do their best because of the system, or vividly portray the future, or reveal aspects of the leader to the audience. They deliberately avoid the tyranny of PowerPoint, and are the more memorable because of it. Some leaders I spoke with were uncomfortable with the word 'stories', and preferred 'anecdotes', saying this was factual rather than fictional, as some stories can be. But they all used them, loved hearing them and then retelling them, over and over.
Actions speak louder than words. A cliché, you might say, but nevertheless one of the hardest truths for a leader to grasp. Being a leader means looking, acting, walking and talking like a leader. Countless times, leaders forget that they are in a fishbowl and are being watched all the time. A look of frustration here, a preoccupied walk through an office without speaking to anyone, a frown of frustration when someone is talking - all of these send powerful signals that staff take away and dissect for meaning. Great leaders com- municate positivity and optimism, and they often do it through a smile, or by walking with energy, or by standing straight and tall. Equally, there is nothing more corrosive than the conflict between saying one thing and doing another: for example, saying that bullying is offensive but then doing nothing about a high-earning bullying manager. That says one thing, and one thing only: money matters more than staff welfare. Leaders who clearly love what they are doing, who show it in everything they do, in every expression, are hugely infectious.
Prepare Properly for Public Platforms
Many a leader has had their reputation dented, or even shattered, because they have not prepared properly for public speaking. Yet the more senior leaders get, the more likely it is they will have to appear on highly public platforms. Done well, such appearances can do enormous good, and drive up sales or the share price, calm nervous investors or unhappy customers, or persuade talented people to the cause. Proper training or coaching is highly recommended but is not enough by itself. Practice makes perfect, and rehearsal is the best practice. Never get complacent - it is just not worth the risk.
Learn, Rehearse, Review, Improve
If you strive to be an excellent communicator, you will become a better, more effective leader. This is why all the leaders I spoke with focused on continuous improvement, fuelled by full and frank feedback on each and every performance. Brilliant leadership can be the difference between outstanding performance and disappointing failure. Great leaders steer organizations to success, inspire and motivate followers, and provide a moral compass for employees to set direction. They spearhead change, drive innovation and communicate a compelling vision for the future. The ability to motivate and inspire others is the characteristic most commonly cited as important when recruiting senior leaders. Communication is the tool that enables inspiring leadership. The simple truth is that you have to get better at it.
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