Nine leadership lessons for communicators


Over time it seems that the term ‘leadership’ has become part of the jargon of middle management that infuriates so many comms people and leaves many thinking of a po-faced Ian Fletcher from W1A. However we shouldn’t make this mistake because if you look closely at every organisation you’ve worked in the difference between good and bad performance is so often to do with leadership.

Certainly when you look across the NHS and the Public sector more generally the most successful organisations are the ones that are really well led.I’ve just finished the Mary Seacole programme which is designed to help develop leaders across the NHS and I found it incredibly useful in meeting some of the challenges faced by PR professionals.

For me there are two key challenges for PR people: working out how to lead their own teams, but also providing strategic leadership around comms for the whole organisation. I think this plays a key role in professionalising communications and influencing organisations from within.

It was great to see some other comms people on the course but it was also fascinating to break out of the PR bubble and work with a really wide range of other professional disciplines.

So here are my key take aways on leadership, and I must stress these are my personal thoughts rather than those of the NHS or the NHS Leadership Academy:

#1 What is leadership? I think it’s important to define what leadership means to you and to contextualise it within your own role. There are lots of academic models to help with this and it’s important to understand that it often has nothing to do with hierarchy and is much more about behaviours.

#2 Understanding impact. One of the first things the course asks you to consider is “what’s it like to be on the receiving end of me” Understanding my own behaviours and the environment I create for other people was interesting but also challenging.

#3 Learning to listen. More than ever we occupy a world of chatter and white noise – maybe ‘always on’ social media has exacerbated this – but as the old saying goes ‘you have two ears and one mouth’ for a reason. Listening is a real skill.

#4 Getting motivated. Understanding what motivates individuals and teams is a real science. David McClelland offers some wider insights here but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

#5 Team time. Michael West’s eight key factors on building a successful team are really useful and it’s always worth thinking about the best or worst team you’ve been in to generate some answers. Google has published some really interesting research looking at the five key dynamics of successful teams:  

I also blogged a guide to building a successful PR team as part of the FuturePRoof project here:

#6 Emotions. I think we’re increasingly learning the power of emotion not just in the way we communicate and influence mass audiences (think Brexit or the general election) but also within our own teams. People often feel rather than think.

#7 Vision and values. Setting a vision and shared goals that everyone can buy into is often the easy bit, but making it transparent and realistic can often be much more difficult. Making sure that everyone in the organisation sees some progress against those goals is vital, especially in our industry. The 4CF framework is a really useful tool for helping with this.

#8 Influence and negotiation. Influencing skills can be learned and refined and are in constant flux between push and pull. The horseshoe model is good for this.

#9 The very best leaders drive improvement and know how to get the best out of systems and people.

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