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Strategic Communication Management

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THOUGHT LEADER :

Leaders who fail to connect with employees miss an opportunity to build a winning team

THE COST OF MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Leaders have numerous
opportunities to engage their
employees, both formally and
informally. But as leadership
advisor Larry Robertson discovered
from spending a few minutes in
an elevator with the CEO of a
multinational, many forget this.

The elevator in the headquarters of
an Australian multinational stopped
at the 28th floor. A senior executive
joined us. I didn’t recognize him but
he greeted John [not his real name]
warmly and gave me a friendly nod.
To my surprise, John responded
with little more than a monosyllabic
grunt and a faint smile. We
continued our descent in silence.
On level 24, a smart, middle-aged
woman entered. She smiled at each
of us and asked John if he was
feeling better. His reply, short and to
the point, “Yes, thanks.”
The elevator stopped several
more times and filled up as more of
the organization’s staff joined us.
John, his face expressionless and his
eyes down, was at the back in one
corner. Most of the newcomers
were young, probably junior
management and administrative
staff. It was as if they sensed their
boss was present – but in no mood
for dialogue. Their earlier
chattiness and openness, palpable
as they entered the lift, evaporated.
We reached the lobby and, with
sighs of relief, the others left John
and me alone. “Have you got a
moment?” I asked. “Sure,” he
replied. “You know what you and I
have been working on these past
few weeks isn’t about media and
presentation skills. It’s about
leadership. In that elevator,” I
continued, “there were almost a
dozen members of your corporate
family, most were crying out for
recognition; acknowledgement
from you as their CEO. It was an

opportunity to engage them and
you ignored them.”
John nodded, “Yes, I’ve heard
some of your leadership ideas. You
should speak with our HR people.”
I looked at him incredulously. “You
just don’t get it. Who is the most
senior HR person in this company?
You are, John!” He grinned and
headed off to lunch.
We continued to work on
investor briefings, media interviews
and other “public speaking”
activities. But, despite my efforts,
John wouldn’t accept that, as a
leader, communication (not merely
presentation) had to be his most
necessary trait: a vital, core value
that every leader has to practice
relentlessly, whatever the pressure,
if he or she is to succeed in bringing
others with them. Like too many
senior executives, he failed to see it.
Within two years, John’s
company got into difficulties, the
share price halved, staff morale
dropped and its reputation was
severely damaged. It wasn’t long
before John lost his job.

Culture starts at the top
The success of any organization
starts at the top. Leadership quality
has the greatest impact. There’s a
clear link between outstanding
performance and outstanding
culture. But that culture must be
constantly nurtured and
demonstrated, not simply talked
about, by those at the top.
Beating the competition is not
just about having the best game
plan, or the best resources or
technical skills, but the best team:
teams of individuals who are
skilled, but also appreciated by
their peers and their leaders.
Recent research confirms that
Australian managers have a way to
go to meet this challenge. Just 37
percent of employees say senior

executives communicate
adequately1
. Communicators have
an important role here too. Not
just to project and protect your
organization’s reputation externally
– but also internally. How?
First, as advocates. Align your
communication goals with your
corporation’s business goals.
Identify the proven relationship
between winning cultures and
winning performances to convince
your senior colleagues to constantly
uphold and exemplify all of the
organization’s stated values and to
seize every opportunity to
communicate spontaneously,
naturally and informally.
Second, as role models.
Communicate around the
workplace in your own normal,
affable style. Connect personally
and meaningfully, and leave all
your listeners with a clear sense
that they really matter.
Third, as coaches. Remind all
your colleagues that effective
communication is a two-way
process. To be successful, it requires
awareness, confidence, connection,
authenticity, openness, sincerity,
clarity of purpose, simple language,
brevity, genuine emotion and active
listening. It requires being
consistently purposeful, trustworthy
and respectful. So, review those media training budgets and allocate more time and resources to teaching managers some
basic communication skills – such as engagement, conversation, listening, negotiation, emotional intelligence, collaboration, managing conflict, clarity, facilitation and, yes, presentation.

Larry Robertson is director of Robertson Burns, which he founded in 1992. He advises the chairmen, chief executives and other senior executives of some of Australia’s largest organizations in the art of leadership communication.

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