• Follow the leader


    The most successful companies are those with dynamic, compelling leaders. And as GAVIN ESLER argues, behind every great leader is a great leadership story.

    Over the years I have been fortunate enough to interview perhaps the best and the brightest stars of business, politics and the arts. What has become clear to me is that regardless of the many skills and qualities a person may possess, only those who are compelling storytellers can be truly great leaders.


    A leader must of course have followers. That’s true of business leaders and their teams, political leaders and their parties - even pop stars and their fans. It’s a prerequisite of the leadership job. And those who forge a real and enduring connection to those followers, one that inspires, motivates and retains them, do so by communicating stories. It’s a technique as old as The Bible.


    We all do it at some level. Every CV, every application for bank finance, every presentation demands that you tell your story well and capture your audience. Make it a true story and your chances of keeping that audience are a great deal higher.


    So what makes a good story? In my experience, the most successful leadership stories have three essential components.  

    • Who am I?
    • Who are we?
    • Where is my leadership going to take us?

    Every business leader should be confident that they clearly and consistently communicate these storylines to their team. It’s all about defining yourself, your corporate identity, your working culture, your vision and your goals. You identify your business objectives and use them to shape the message you want to convey. And you keep reinforcing that message, through everything you do.


    The most prominent business leaders do this exceptionally well. Richard Branson and Steve Jobs are great examples of gifted businessmen and extraordinary storytellers. Branson as the adventurer at the head of dynamic, ground-breaking businesses, Jobs as the unassuming ‘geek’ who’ll deliver game-changing products, time after time. Of course not everybody can tell a story of that global scale – but we do all have a tale to tell. 


    There is no doubt that we all have our innate talents, and we can all play to our natural strengths to engage listeners. Some people are naturally funnier than others – in politics both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton used humour to their advantage, for example, while Margaret Thatcher is better known for focusing on other traits, fuelling her reputation as the strident Iron Lady. What the most effective leaders share, though, is a dedication to improving their skills, honing these talents and ensuring that when they communicate they do it clearly and in a way that is memorable. If your technique is lacking, work on it.


    As a leadership skill, the ability to deliver a powerful and credible story effectively isn’t just desirable – it can be essential to motivate and restore confidence when times are tough. Every business encounters challenges and having the technical competence to address them just isn’t enough. You need to articulate that you are in control, and if necessary defend your reputation by responding to any counter-stories from detractors. The power of negative stories, even if untrue, shouldn’t be underestimated. Deal with them swiftly and assertively.


    At the same time, if you do make a mistake don’t ignore it or attempt to deflect blame. Be prepared to rewrite your script to convey that you have learned from it. Your honesty can inspire greater trust. 


    Actions may speak louder than words, but the words matter. In many respects it comes down to salesmanship. All business leaders need to convincingly sell themselves, their company and their product – in that order – and be vocal about their successes, because if they won’t no one else will. But they can’t be empty words. Deliver on your promise.

9/28/2020 11:40:50 PM