Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Visible Leader

I have been working with a global business on a coaching assignment this year and I have had the pleasure to work with some of their senior talent. These are already extremely high performing, well regarded, long tenured leaders with superb technical skills. They are driving large, global, remote teams, at a distance, with cultural and language differences, in complex markets and against the backdrop of the need to be agile in driving change, get ahead of the competition and make their numbers.

So what’s the real challenge? (As if they don’t have enough already?) In short – and perhaps not surprisingly - it’s all about communication.

As leaders, our role is to engage, enthuse and inspire our people to deliver outstanding performance. Often the circumstances are tough, the market is difficult and our customers are incredibly demanding. We ‘communicate’ with our people, we are clear on our expectations, we explain our vision and we outline our values. So now, let’s just get on with it. If only it were that simple. If. Only.

To be an inspiring leader means being a visible leader. To be a visible leader means being an outstanding communicator. And somewhere within those two sentences is the challenge. I have gathered feedback from the most senior stakeholders across my clients’ businesses and these are my top ten lessons for all of us who want to be even more inspiring, engaging and visible in our businesses:
  1. Create an ‘operating rhythm’ of communication and stick to it.
  2. Get support (from within or across your leadership team) to help you plan, manage and implement the right messages to the right people at the right time. 
  3. Create simple but engaging stories. Data is just data – it’s the story behind the data that will win the hearts and minds of others.
  4. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Never assuming saying once or twice means that they’ve ‘got it’. They won’t all have and they’ll easily forget.
  5. Being visible as a leader means getting your message across without getting lost in all of the detail. One of the most continual messages I keep hearing is: be more crisp, be more concise, be more compelling.
  6. Develop some key ‘sound bites’. Key phrases, metaphors and analogies that make the point – especially when it’s a contentious or potentially unpopular one. Soundbites are more memorable, they ignite our interest and curiosity and – if they are good – will be repeated and become part of the fabric of the language across your organisation. 
  7. Use multiple channels – digital, face-to-face, 'all hands calls' etc. Know your preferred channel of communicating and beware of developing a bias towards it.
  8. Results get delivered when we talk, rather than cranking out emails. The more you have on your desk/inbox, the less time you have with your people. Beware! Develop your team to deliver operational excellence so that you can focus on a more strategic approach. 
  9. Are you controlling your time or is your time controlling you? If we ‘don’t have time’, then it’s the latter and we are kidding ourselves that we’re in control. We’re not. Force a change, no matter how busy your diary, to how you spend your time. Otherwise you’ll never get hold of it. Remember, how you spend your money and how you spend your time tells your organisation all that you care about.
  10. And since we’re talking about time, make time to observe and absorb the experience of being in the business with your teams. It builds enormous credibility, provides you with an unfettered view of the challenges and opportunities ahead, as well as giving the vital space to ask questions and listen. 
Leaders with Executive Presence make this look easy. I know that it’s not. We live in an attention deficient economy and if we’re not seen, then we’re not heard. If we’re not heard, then we can’t engage and inspire our people. So, what can you do now to increase your visibility today?

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