The PR executive's key responsibility was once simply to manage an organisation's relationships with the media. Today, we are relied on to be trusted advisers to senior leaders. Many of us counsel and coach bosses who shoulder responsibility for the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. Their decisions can affect markets and be the difference between a company thriving and collapsing. Our advice is crucial.
Having a set of guidelines we can use to help our leaders be more inspiring is essential. Although the principles in my book The Language of Leaders are designed for leaders, it is a template we can use too.
The process behind the book was simple: I undertook 70 in-depth interviews with leaders from some of the world's largest and most complex organisations spanning the private and public sectors and large charities.
Interviewees include Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Ocado chairman and former M&S CEO and chairman Sir Stuart Rose and Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins. Between them, these 70 leaders boasted 2,000 years of leadership experience.
Below are 12 principles drawn from my book to become a more potent and valuable PR adviser to your leader.
The 12 principles of inspiring leadership communications
1. Help them 'be themselves better'
Authenticity in leaders is crucial. Followers must trust and believe their leader. Encourage your employer to 'show more of themselves', to reflect their values and beliefs rather than focusing on delivering key messages, and help them to speak with more passion.
2. Drive the mission and values
Too often, leaders use financial goals to motivate people. Followers want to be inspired by a sense of achieving something important, something that makes a difference; a purpose beyond profit. A strong sense of mission helps the right decisions get made throughout the organisation. Become adept at managing this across all levels of an organisation.
3. Paint the future
The words you write become your leader's sound bites and speeches. Help them paint a vivid picture of the future. Every leader I spoke to uses a vision of a better future as a tangible force to drive the present. Help articulate that future by fusing the vision (what success will look and feel like) to the purpose (what important thing we are here to do) and the values (how we do it).
4. Be the eyes and ears of the organisation
Leaders must live outside their organisations, constantly relating stories of success and failure in external relationships to keep everyone fixed on what must improve. Successful leaders know that relationships are the engines of success; they keep a close eye on the state of all key relationships, and keep their enterprise focused on those relationships as well. You must be their 'quivering antennae', as one leader described it - a radar system that keeps the leader in touch with the outside world.
5. Engage through conversations
More leaders now measure levels of employee engagement to find ways to keep people motivated. Studies show that companies with high levels of engagement among employees outperform their competitors by some margin. As a PR expert you understand such engagement is achieved through conversations and not, as once was the case, by broadcasting messages. Drive structured conversations that allow employees to fully understand the big objective. Encourage more conversations with external audiences wherever you can.
6. Be audience-centric
Let us be clear: your leader has not communicated well if people have not heard him or her, have not understood and do not feel motivated to think differently or act differently as a result. He or she may have stood up and talked at them, but communication has only taken place when the words have had an impact. Help your employer understand the stories that will best speak to every separate audience he or she addresses; to their concerns and their issues rather than to your employer's.
7. Learn to listen 'louder'
Quite often, the people whom I interviewed rated listening as an essential skill of leadership, possibly the hardest one to perfect. Sometimes the simple act of listening, they said, is an act of inspiration in itself. 'You have to give people a damn good listening to; you have to listen louder.' Help your leader learn to listen 'with intent', to ask great questions, and to understand how to unleash his or her curiosity and interest in people.
8. Develop a point of view
Does your boss have a strong point of view? Does he or she express it so powerfully that you can predict it before they open their mouth? Real leaders repeatedly take a position on issues and stand up for what they believe to be right. Too few leaders think about developing points of view that, when well articulated, can influence people and gain them a stronger voice in shaping the future. Does your leader possess this kind of voice? If not, offer to sit down with them and help to develop it.
9. Teach your boss to tell stories
Getting people to listen to you is tough enough, but getting them to sit up and take notice, and then remember what you've said, is a supreme challenge. Every leader uses stories, knowing that we are wired to listen imaginatively when we are told stories. Good stories get under the cynical radar and touch hearts. What are the stories of your organisation that you can help your leader to formulate and spread?
10. The importance of signals
Actions speak louder than words. Countless times, leaders forget that they are in a fishbowl and are being watched all the time. A look of frustration; a preoccupied walk through an office without greeting anyone; a frown when someone is talking - all send powerful signals that staff take away and dissect for meaning. Equally, look out for conflicts between what your leader says he or she believes and signals that suggest otherwise. For example, saying that bullying is offensive but then doing nothing about a high-earning bullying manager.
11. Prepare properly for public platforms
Many a leader has had their reputation dented, or even shattered, because they have not prepared properly for public speaking. Handled well, such appearances can do enormous good, and increase sales or the share price, calm nervous investors or unhappy customers, or persuade talented people to the cause. Proper training or coaching is highly recommended but is not enough by itself. Practice makes perfect. Be the facilitator of vital rehearsals.
12. Learn, rehearse, review, improve
If your boss strives to be an excellent communicator, he or she will become a better, more effective leader. All the leaders I spoke with focused on continuous improvement, fuelled by full and frank feedback on each and every performance. This giving of feedback and being an enabler of rehearsal and improvement is a key part of your role. You must be courageous to properly execute this role. You can be the difference between a leader's outstanding performance and disappointing failure.