Friday 19 October 2018

Like it or not, you will need training to be a good leader

The communicator: Gina London
The communicator: Gina London

Gina London

I'm on TV3's The Six O'Clock Show last Tuesday with Meath GAA football legend and former bad boy Graham Geraghty. Hosts Muireann O'Connell and Martin King, after walking Graham down the memory lane of his career suspensions largely over verbal no-no's, fire a question to me: "Would you have wanted to help him with his communications back in the day?"

I laugh. "It's not whether I would've wanted to help him, it's whether he would've wanted the help."

From the GAA pitch to the corporate boardroom (to the American White House), you don't have to look far to find plenty of people who may need communications coaching, but who don't want it. Maybe they are unaware of the need or they don't care.

But the first step for anyone to become a more deliberate and thoughtful communicator is for them to desire to make a change.

In addition to appearing on TV3, I also recently had the privilege of leading communications training sessions for a team of executives from a multinational company.

These men and women were eager to dig into the new strategies and approaches I introduced because they were eager to better connect and motivate their audiences.

While they bravely explored various ways to adjust their body language, their vocal quality and their content development - on camera and in front of their peers - there was one thing they mentioned that left me deflated.

To a person, they described that when they present before their organisation's C-suite, they try to get the attention of anybody else in the room other than their CEO. That's because the CEO is often ignoring the presentation and is instead bending over a phone or laptop.

What a pity. The heads of department attended the training session, but the head of the organisation clearly needs communications coaching too. And he either doesn't realise it or doesn't care.

CEO communications by the numbers:

As a CEO, it's not enough to manage your company's financial performance. A study reported by Forbes magazine underscores how important it is for the chief executive to manage his or her leadership style as well.

The study found that most of them get fired over so-called "soft issues".

Some 31pc of CEOs were sacked for poor change management, 28pc for ignoring customers, 27pc for tolerating low performers, 23pc for denying reality (is that like "fake news?"), and 22pc for too much talk and not enough action.

As the report on the study concluded, these figures demonstrate that successful top management is more about "soft issues and leadership styles than it is the quarterly P&L".

A separate report from PR giant Edelman noted that in 2017 global CEO credibility plummeted by 12pc. Some 63pc of those surveyed said their leaders were "somewhat or not at all credible."

In Ireland, the numbers were even more dramatic. The managing director of Edelman Ireland, Joe Carmody, noted that CEO credibility here dropped 16 points from the previous year. You might argue that it's shaky to connect a leader's overall credibility or trustworthiness to my example of whether or not they look up from their phone during a presentation. But I would maintain it's a symptom of the larger problem.

Why getting communications feedback is critical

Let's examine a range of communications events any corporate leader will likely face:

  • Giving TV interviews.
  • Speaking with the print or online press.
  • Delivering keynote addresses.
  • Talking with small groups.
  • Meeting one-on-one with key investors.
  • Handling earnings calls.
  • Responding to key stakeholders Q&A.
  • And finally, of course, listening to employees

Whether an organisation survives a crisis, settles a merger successfully, or avoids regulatory pitfalls heavily depends on communication skills, doesn't it? Therefore, if the company's leaders don't take purposeful efforts to engage and connect with their teams, it may well result in disengaged employees, frustrated management and reduced productivity.

So, in addition to providing communications training support for their department heads, a confident leader must also embrace the opportunity to be challenged to think and behave differently themselves.

This may be a time-consuming effort. But it's worth it. Hire an expert to sit in on both smaller meetings and larger town hall meetings over an established period of time in order to provide informed feedback and recommendations.

Don't forget the non-verbal either. Ask the coach or trainer to pay attention to body language (like when someone who should be listening appears distracted by a device), posture and vocal quality. All very important.

Great leadership isn't easy, but if you want to change, like my new TV3 friend Graham Geraghty, you can achieve it.

He still plays a bit of football, but his new dedication as a social care worker with Three Steps, a therapeutic residential service provider for children and families, shows he has made great strides toward reforming his communications style.

Three Steps' website sums it up by stating, "We believe that everyone has the ability to change and to flourish."

I agree. Anyone can become a more effective and deliberate communicator - if they want to change. As I often say and the evidence illustrates, "Communications aren't soft skills, they're critical skills."

Write to Gina London in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie. Gina is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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