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Leadership Now is Not What You Say

by Guest Writter
Michael Parker, Author, It’s Not What You Say: How to Sell Your Message When It Matters Most

In the days of ‘control and command,’ leaders could rely on positions of hierarchy that allowed them to indulge in communication that was essentially one way. This communication needed to be clear but it assumed an audience – a workforce – ready to take instruction and ‘follow the leader,’ because that was what you did to keep your job.

Today, leaders have to earn the right to lead, every day, and the way they communicate is critical to success.

Leaders must build trust with their people, and you can’t do this unless you communicate with them at an emotional level. Clear, well-reasoned argument alone is not enough. In any group, it is emotion that leads to action; whereas reason just leads to conclusions.

The leader must not forget about feelings and should heed the advice of someone not associated with the world of business: the poet Maya Angelou, who said:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And to understand how they feel, the leader must learn how to listen! As individuals, they must cultivate the art of listening really listening, not polite nodding. They need to create opportunities for this to happen on a personal and a company wide basis. We are in what some call the ‘empathy era’ where people only listen to you if you listen to them, where real communication is genuinely two-way.

Story-telling should be a major part of this, encouraged by the leader. From childhood, we have enjoyed and engaged with stories. We love them. We remember them. The astute marketers assiduously cultivate their brand stories. The astute leader needs to build on and bring alive the narrative of the company, not the bald mission statement and values. Tap into the emotional heart with stories that connect and engage.

Finally, the role of leadership is to inspire. And to inspire others you need to be inspired.

To do this you must find something in you, which inspires you, particularly, a strongly held belief about which you are passionate. Passion persuades.  Passion is infectious, so let it out and don’t hold back. With it you can be unstoppable. And the same goes for your company fighting in its marketplace.

You are in a battle and if you don’t lead, no one will follow.  Clear-cut victories are rare. Often the winning difference, as on a real field of battle, is leadership. You must take charge, being bold, courageous and inspirational. And through skillful and persuasive communication you, personally, must be seen to take charge.

Leaders take note that, as Aristotle said, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”


About the Author

Michael is the author of It’s Not What You Say: How to Sell Your Message When It Matters Most (Tarcher Perigee, on sale January 2016), a former vice chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi London, and one of the UK’s most experienced pitch coaches, having taken part in over 1,000 pitches. He also competed as a hurdler in two Olympics and now brings his experience and competitive instincts to coaching, ranging from one-to-one interviews to major public speeches.

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