Inspirational communication

As part of our ‘Meet the Author’ series of webinars run for our alumni, we recently heard from Kevin Murray, Chairman of Chime Communications, about leadership communications – the subject of his bestselling books: ‘The Language of Leaders’ and ‘Communicate to Inspire: A Guide for Leaders’.

Kevin is passionate about leadership communication and its role in business success and, critically, the role of communicators in helping leaders to be more inspirational communicators.

Kevin Murray, Chairman of Chime Communications
Kevin Murray, Chairman of Chime Communications

Here we thought we’d share some of the questions our alumni asked Kevin and his responses.

Why would leaders be so ignorant of their leadership skills?
Many of us are unaware of our strengths, or of our impact on others. We need to be brave enough to tell leaders how they are being perceived, or how what they say is being perceived and interpreted, and what the consequences of that are likely to be in terms of behaviours. What we do is to try to influence behaviours that create better performance. So we need to be able to interpret for leaders how their actions influence future behaviours. We need to be tuned into audiences and help to make leaders more aware of the skills and things they need to be focusing on.

Why do so few CEOs come from PR and Marketing?
I think it is because we in PR and Marketing don’t do enough to understand business. I think the critical issue is that we need to become more literate in the language of business if we want to influence the language of leaders. That means taking the time and effort to understand business, business plans, strategy, and the things that most influence and drive business performance. It is only by doing this that we can influence behaviours, and if we show that kind of awareness and understanding we can position ourselves to have a much bigger role on executive committees, in the C-suite and boardrooms.

If leaders are more empathetic will this make them weaker leaders?
Just because you tend to listen to people and are more empathetic doesn’t mean that you can’t make the necessary tough decisions. What it will mean is that you’ll be more mindful of the impact on people and you will be more respectful in the way that you deal with them. Leadership is about courage and making tough decisions when they are required, and this is what we expect of our leaders. I think that leaders who listen don’t necessarily have to act on what they hear, but they certainly have to explain why they aren’t going to take your ideas on board if they decide not to. Leaders decide on where we are going, but the great leaders involve us not in where we are going but how best to get there. When they talk with us about our ideas and take on board our ideas to work out the best way to achieve their ambitions, that is when we become engaged, and that is when we are likely to give our best and perform better. I think leaders with emotional intelligence are capable of unleashing the creativity and commitment of people and will become strong leaders.

How can we get organisations to listen more to their employees?
As communicators we need to understand that there are thousands of ways to listen. I’ve heard great stories about people who listen through chatrooms or social media, who listen by bringing groups of employees together for a cup of tea and a biscuit and to talk about things, right through to the more formal company-wide employee engagement surveys. We need to try and find every possible way we can to listen more intently so that we can give leaders better advice. It isn’t just about taking the messages that our leaders want to deliver and then finding creative ways to do this; it is also about giving those leaders the information they need to make better quality decisions. That means we need to get out there and do a whole lot more listening ourselves. When we do provide leaders with quality information and insight they become more inclined to do more listening, so there is a virtuous circle there if we get it right.

How can we get senior managers to be themselves?
I now have a huge amount of evidence that shows that the more we can enable leaders to show their passion, to show their belief and values, the more inspiring they are. It is a tough job to do because the business schools and business process try to wash the emotion out of you and to make you as plain and logical as possible. Whereas we all know that it is emotion that powers our behaviours and performance. Getting leaders to be more passionate, to show that passion and to instil it in others is critical to success.

What is the best way for PRs to gain business knowledge?
By reading, being curious and going and asking. By taking the time and effort. Early in my own career I dedicated the time to doing the Diploma in Company Direction at the Institute of Directors to help me understand more about the broader disciplines of management and leadership. But I am insatiably curious about business and what makes business tick, what business leaders are worrying about and business strategy. Before I ever offer advice to a client I want to understand more about their business plan, what they are trying to achieve, what the business drivers are, where they are succeeding and not succeeding, what the barriers are to what they want to achieve. And I try to talk the language of leaders and ask business focused questions. I think there are a huge number of ways to become more business savvy – read more business books, go and do some investigation yourself and see if you can get on a basic business management course that will help you to think about business strategies.

Thanks again to Kevin for an inspiring session!