What communicators need to know about good leadership
As strategic communications professionals we find ourselves working up close with and advising leaders on issues that can make or break careers and reputations in the political, corporate and non-profit spheres.
From our unique vantage point, we often get to see good leadership in action, particularly during times of crisis, disruption, uncertainty, complexity and change.
One of the privileges of our job is working with leaders who understand the value of strategic communication and place their trust in us to help them shape messages, position views and communicate well with employees, customers, shareholders, government, media and the community.
To help our leaders perform at their best, it’s important for us to understand and recognise the qualities and attributes of a good leader. By doing this, we can help leaders to identify their communications strengths and preferences, and work with them to bring their unique style and leadership qualities into their communications.
There’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter approach to leadership and there are many different styles and attributes of good leadership. By observing good leadership in practice, we can distinguish what separates being in a position of leadership from being a good leader.
Political journalist, Shaun Carney, has done just that by interviewing 25 prominent Australian leaders for his book, The Change Makers, including Oxfam CEO, Helen Szoke. They recently shared their insights in a wide-ranging discussion with Hillary Harper on ABC Radio’s Life Matters.
Here are some of the key themes from the interview that communicators may want to keep in mind when working with leaders:
- You need to be a good human to be a good leader – good leaders build trust by having a participatory and democratic leadership style. They are empathetic, consultative and aren’t afraid to show emotion in their leadership and communication.
- Good leaders are pathfinders who have a strong sense of purpose – they clearly explain their vision and are driven, ambitious and passionate about leading change and making a contribution.
- Good leaders are willing to do the hard things – they are willing to take risks, admit when things go wrong, learn from failure and are prepared to expose their vulnerability.
- Good leaders understand what others expect from them – they act with integrity and understand that people need certainty to make decisions. They are transparent, fair and accountable.
- Good leaders make it possible for people to contribute – they mentor others and recognise the value that people bring to an organisation. They identify other leaders in their teams and create opportunities for them to contribute and grow.
With these traits in mind, we can help good leaders build trust, influence outcomes and have greater impact by expressing their unique qualities and communicating with clarity, compassion and authenticity.