The medium is the message

Leaders are in a unique place to influence. Through their engagement they have the ability to alter a company’s culture, upset the confidence in a stock, or encourage a Minister to consider a change in policy.

As communicators we are regularly charged with the responsibility of supporting leaders in their engagement with a myriad of audiences. And leaders come in many different guises. From the Chair or CEO of a listed company to a Head of Business Unit or Project, to a Functional or Project leader. Like people, all leaders are different, and there is no template or package software that exists to allow the communications professional to simply plug in the requirements and quickly spit out the perfect plan or a polished prose.

Often the best place to start is to find out more about the leader themselves rather than getting stuck into whether a town hall is the best approach to engage with staff or identifying the key messages that need to be inserted into the speech to investors, or tightening their latest tweet.

One of the CEOs I spent the most time with was and remains today a remarkable orator and a leader the entire organisation admired. Over the years I worked with him I spent any time that I could grab probing him for stories about himself, both personally and professionally. It helped me understand what issues I should push him harder on in his communications, or when and where he needed the most support and counsel. Ultimately it improved his communications and the impact he had for the company.

When someone listens to a leader speak, or reads their message it is not done in isolation from the individual delivering the message. Leadership communications are in many ways about the leader themselves.

Or put another way – “the medium is the message”.

Any message delivered by a leader is a reflection of that individual. It needs to ring true to their character, values, and beliefs, as much as it should to the needs of the company’s strategy. As a communicator, the more you understand a leader the better you will be at being able to capture opportunities to achieve the company’s objectives through the appropriate and effective use of leadership communications. The worst thing you can do is advise a leader to communicate a message that does not represent them an individual. The audience will see through this, and the outcome is never pretty.

Conversely, the message to leaders is to spend more time thinking through not just what they want to say, but what they see as important to themselves personally, to their company, their customer, their people and society more broadly. These questions and considerations will bring to the surface the values that are most precious, and if understood can have a significant influence on any audience.

Leaders too need to invest time in their communications. Let your communications team write your material without input at your own risk.

I had the fortune of working with a Chairman of a global company who unlike many leaders invested themselves in each and every communications that bore their name. It was never about writing a speech for the Chairman, but instead helping them prepare. Discussing the context, the audience, and their personal views and considerations. Listening to each other and working together to influence.