Leadership – how to talk your way to the top

2nd March 2015

We had great fun and had some great feedback following our short session on Leadership, Communication and Performance last Friday at the IPREX Global Leadership Conference in London. Grateful thanks to John Scheibel, David Watson and the team for their warm welcome and skilful organisation on the day.

We won’t breach any confidences by talking about details, but we found some interesting themes which have also come up with our existing clients. These are the key lessons from the session;

Difficult conversations
  • In tough conversations with clients it’s easy to mistake the client’s insecurity for anger with our performance. If we focus on their facial expressions we can see more clues as to their true state of mind
  • Engaging with the client at an emotional level – asking them how they feel, looking at how their facial expressions change – helps to broaden out the conversation
  • When the client gets aggressive, escalate the communication.
    • If the client sends an angry email, respond with a phone call
    • If they get rough on the phone, get a face to face meeting
    • If they are aggressive in a meeting, involve your boss (or theirs).

Errors and mistakes, just as in all your other relationships, can be a way to strengthen the relationship rather than weaken it. It’s all about how you respond to the problem. Escalation shows you are taking them seriously.

  • Start by throwing away all your books on Authentic/Charismatic/Transformational/Distributed Leadership. They are worse than useless, because they misunderstand what leadership is
  • In reality, every time we take the lead in a conversation at work, we are being a leader. Leadership is not the exclusive preserve of the CEO. Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow, sometimes we are managers. It depends on the situation
  • Instead of all those overcomplicated theories, focus on the fundamentals of leadership
    • Leadership is about strategy; management is about resources
    • Leadership and management both happen through communication. What distinguishes them are the kinds of questions you ask.

Don’t try to be the perfect leader; just recognise when you are taking the lead, and own the situation appropriately.

Managing ‘Millennials’

There’s been a load of rubbish talked and printed about getting the most from people in their late teens and early twenties. The essentials of managing young people haven’t changed. All you really need to do is talk to them;

  • Find out what they care about – why they really want to go boarding four times a year – in other words, their values. Then link the task to their values; if they care about recycling, give them responsibility for recycling in the office. Research shows that when people who care about the environment are given environmental responsibilities, not only do they do extra environmental tasks in the office, they also do extra client work. Why? Because you have engaged them. You have given them a reason to belong, a reason to be proud of working for your business.
  • Find out what skills they want to develop and explain HOW the tasks you give them help to develop those skills. Spending hours crafting a press release or some website content helps any aspiring writer to develop skills they can use directly on their true calling.
  • When you are building a young team, you have to manage them on two levels; individually, as above, and as a group. Watch how they all adopt certain roles in the group over time. And don’t assume that people who are difficult in a group are difficult people. They could just be unconsciously adopting a role for the group. Don’t take it as a personal attack; ask yourself why the group needs this person in this role. But be warned; you may find the problem is not them, it’s you.

The overriding theme of the session was that, as communications professionals, they already have most of the tools they need to be great leaders; like the rest of us, they just need to be a little more aware of their language, their actions and their context, and practice using their existing skills in a more mindful, deliberate way.


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