Gini’s recent post, “Most Leaders Suck At Communications” got me thinking about the characteristics shared by great leaders and communications professionals, and some tips for both.

A few things to consider…

Great Leaders Ask More Than They Tell

Communications pros understand the value of asking questions, which lead to insights, which lead to communications strategies. Easy peasy. 

For leaders, asking questions helps them understand what’s going on with their teams. That’s Leadership 101. Truly evolved and great leaders understand the benefits of asking empowering, open-ended questions. 

Doing so lights up the brains of those we ask, specifically the parts of their brains where creation, creativity, collaboration, memory, and action reside. Asking open-ended questions provides additional critical benefits that are imperative for leaders to understand. 

It’s essential that leaders not ask questions that are designed to direct the team member to the leader’s conclusion. That’s telling by asking. Doing so won’t provide the aforementioned effects on the listener’s brain and it won’t help the leader learn anything about the team member, which is a key reason for asking questions in the first place. 

My favorite book outlining the questions leaders should ask is, “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, & Change the Way You Lead Forever” by Michael Bungay Stiers. It’s an easy read, the recommendations are practical, and it gives leaders the tools to get team members out of your office (real or virtual) when they come to you with questions, empowering them to think through solutions. 

Great Leaders Listen More Than They Speak

Now that we’ve gotten you to ask more questions, or if you’re already doing that, it’s critical to truly listen to what you hear. I’ve always felt that many PR pros and leaders talk more than they speak, say 60/40, or do so equally, say 50/50. But I believe you can become a much more effective leader by making that 40/60. Leaders who are perceived as good listeners are perceived to be great leaders. And that doesn’t even factor in what happens when those leaders act on what they’ve heard!

The same is true for PR pros/communicators. In fact, if you build a reputation for listening more than speaking, you’ll stand apart from other publicists who haven’t learned that lesson. That’s a huge advantage for you and your clients, whether they’re external or internal, and whether you’re at an agency, government organization, non-profit, or any other organization. 

Great Leaders Are Highly Empathetic

Empathy is one of those phrases that being with “e”, the other being “emotional intelligence,” which reflects a make-or-break skill for leaders. I think the case can be made that it’s a critical skill for communications practitioners. To be truly effective, PR pros must be empathetic to the audiences they’re trying to move to action. If not, they may be just trumpeting messages out there, but will they be effective? Hardly. 

And PR practitioners who are empathetic to anyone they’re “pitching,” be they reporters, writers, news directors, or influencers, the more they can influence those audiences to be open to their messages. 

Want to learn more about empathy, including the three types of empathy? Simply Google Daniel Goleman. He’s the expert. (And yes, Virginia, there are three types of empathy, and anyone who wants to be more empathetic must understand the differences between them.)

Great Leaders Build Trust

I’ve taught and written about critical skills for leaders and I passionately believe that trust is the most important one. Why? Because without trust, there’s no relationship, and without a relationship, you’re not building followership. If your followers don’t trust you and aren’t choosing to follow you—and yes, they do have a choice—if they’re just doing their work, and ticking off assignments from their to-do list, it’s just transactional. 

Effective leadership, however, creates the opportunity for transformation. Transformative for the followers, the leaders, the organizations, and their clients. 

Doesn’t the same thing apply to PR pros? Can they truly be effective if not trusted by the groups mentioned in the previous section? Of course not. Back in the day when I was a young publicist (and before Gini weighs in, let me acknowledge it was a long time ago!)  

Leadership Tips for Communicators 

Beyond those must-use skills and strategies, here are my tips that will benefit both communicators and leaders: 

Keep It Simple

In my experience, both leaders and communications pros overload their messages, focusing too much on everything they know, and everything they want their audiences or followers to know. 

Unfortunately, that strategy is bound to fail, mostly because our audiences’ ability to truly understand our information is much more limited than we realize.

So instead of thinking about everything you want your audiences, media targets, and/or followers to know, think instead about what do I want them to 1) understand; 2) retain; and most of all, 3) repeat to others.

That’s a far shorter list than everything we want them to know, and that’s fine. Because when we focus on what we want them to Understand, Retain, and Repeat, that’s when we’re driving word-of-mouth. 

And that’s mission-critical to both communicators and leaders.

Be Transparent

While we can’t share everything we may know in our communications, in my view, we should lean towards more transparency because that’s what builds the aforementioned trust and, like in life, is what builds a relationship. 

This is especially true for leaders. 

According to Darren Perucci (from when he was with Bamboo HR), leaders who are more transparent, drive five key benefits:

  1. Strengthened workplace culture
  2. Increased employee engagement
  3. Improved communication
  4. Improved customer relations,
  5. An increased bottom line

To any leader reading this: Don’t you want more of this, especially in an age of uncertainty? Of course, you do.

Do you not see how this will build engagement and loyalty among your followers? I’m sure you do. 

And based on the list above, there is a business imperative for doing so!

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs, PCC, CPC, ELI-MP, a certified executive coach, is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. His company helps leaders, CEOs, agency owners, senior executives, and managers in the communications space achieve their organizational, career, and personal goals by becoming effective, inspired, and inspired leaders.

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