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Communicate like a boss

Effective leadership requires many skills but key is being able to communicate well, reports Bob Little

One key skill that all effective leaders need to have – regardless of the sort of effective leader they are – is being able to communicate.

“Done well, a speech can motivate, engage and, most importantly, inspire action,” says Dr Juan Carlos Pastor, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at IE Business School.

Writing for Headspring Executive Development, Juan is quick to stress that corporate leaders don’t need to reach the oratorical heights of Martin Luther King to influence their teams. But they should at least embrace five principles:

Create trust through authenticity 
Building trust, expressing moral conviction, telling the truth, and even admitting mistakes helps you develop the credibility that audiences seek. Moreover, it’s important to remember that your audience will gauge your authenticity from the tiniest and briefest of facial expressions.

Although the comedian Groucho Marx  once quipped, ‘Sincerity is the key to success. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made,’ it’s also true that your body language can understate your true commitment to a cause. As Jonathan Freeman, a professor of psychology at Goldsmith’s College, London, observes, a neutral face with a slightly upturned mouth and eyebrows suggests greater trustworthiness. So, says Pastor, check in a mirror how you come across before making that important speech.

Share personal stories
People follow leaders with whom they feel they can identify on a personal level. When a would-be leader’s experiences exemplify values and characteristics such as survival, hope or success, these stories can inspire team members too. Pastor urges, “Don’t be afraid to share personal anecdotes that might help you to become a role model.”

Use rhetorical devices
Leadership researcher John Antonakis identifies 12 rhetorical devices that can elevate a speaker and his message. These include the use of metaphor, repetition, similes and analogies, rhetorical questions, statements that resonate with local sentiments, and the setting of hard goals. Antonakis estimates that using these devices 
can improve a speaker’s leadership ratings by some 60%.

Help people to think differently
Communicators must inspire their listeners to action. This can be done by helping them define a problem in new ways and then propose alternative solutions. Pastor points out that, in his 1997 speech at Macworld Boston, the late Steve Jobs urged Apple employees not to focus on beating Microsoft but on making Apple great on its own terms. By reframing Apple’s challenge, he paved the way for the company’s famous turnaround.

Deploy cues to action 
In 1965, psychologist 
Howard Leventhal explored ways to convince Yale university students to get a tetanus vaccine from the local health care centre. He prepared two booklets. One explained the dangers of tetanus, including graphic details and pictures. The other set out the benefits while toning down the dangers. Neither booklet achieved the desired result. So, on a map of the campus, Leventhal circled the health care centre location. Immediately, the vaccination rate rose by one third. The new map had included a cue to action.“Effective leaders need to add similar, simple cues to jump-start action,” says Pastor.


This blog has been inspired by the Institute of Leadership and Management’s five dimensions of leadership.






About Bob Little

Bob Little is a communications professional (a writer, editor, commentator, speaker and broadcaster) specialising in the field of corporate L&D, who works internationally.

Headspring Executive Development is a company formed by the Financial Times and IE Business School

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