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March - April 2008
Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence

Wisdom to lead minds:

“Would you persuade, speak of interest, not of reason.”

Benjamin Franklin

The CEO dilemma - talk it up or keep your powder dry?

This month’s Boss Magazine (Australian Financial Review supplement) carried advice to new CEOs from the recruiters who short-list many of them.

Much of the article offered sound views, but sprinkled through were suggestions that would kill a budding leader’s mandate. For example, one was the often heard proposition that new CEOs should keep a low public profile while concentrating on staff and customers and getting the business right first. Stay out of the media. “It’s stupid to over promise and under-deliver. It’s not the time to do speeches.”

At first glance this seems sensible. Learn the ropes; get some early wins on the board; get your thinking straight while keeping your powder dry.

But what will the world be doing and thinking while you are putting your ship in order and getting your sea legs? Watching and judging. And of course it will continue moving forward at a faster and faster rate. For a public company CEO, analysts and media might give you three hours in the job before testing how you are approaching it. More likely they will start that debate from when your appointment is announced. “Honeymoon” periods of relative grace still exist for new leaders in every sector, but they are typically shortening.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was elected late last year and has since continuously communicated his agenda for action via speeches, media interviews and other channels.

When Winston Churchill took office as Prime Minister Britain was losing the war to Germany, and losing badly. And defeats continued after he took office. Churchill had a clear purpose and strategy, but he didn’t have all or even many of the answers when he started. However, in the words of one historian he “took the English language to war” and made communication one of Britain’s most fearsome weapons.

Churchill’s daily “Minutes”, messages of 150 to 300 words, and his “Action this day” special orders are models more modern leaders could adopt to their benefit. And his speeches are studies in leadership and influence of the highest order. Had he taken the advice cited above, Europe’s history would be markedly different.

If leaders don’t communicate their perspectives, their thinking, their plans and their values, to people they need to influence both inside and outside their immediate organisations, then by definition they are not leading. They may be managing, or doing something else entirely, but it is not leading. Communicating is so much a part of leading that not to communicate is not to lead.

And to selectively communicate only to one’s Board, staff and perhaps customers is a strategy that would cripple the long-term prospects of even the newest CEO in any sector.

So here are some questions new CEOs might ask themselves:

  • Whose support or understanding will I need to succeed in this role?
  • Even if I don’t yet know the details, what is the essence of my direction and strategy here?
  • What skills and values do I bring that will be crucial to our success?
  • How can I not only listen and observe as I find my way, but also project my values and strategy in a way that draws others to engage in discussion and act in support?

Developing several signature speeches in the early months of a new tenure gives the new leaders fabulous resources to draw upon both at the podium and at the water cooler. Perhaps more important, doing so also stimulates them to think through their ideas in a structure that starts fitting those ideas to the audiences the leader most needs to influence.

More next month...


Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information


© 2006 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
You are free to use material from the Leading Minds eZine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear. The attribution should read: "By Geoff Kelly of Kelly Strategic Influence. Please visit Geoff's web site at www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au for additional articles and resources on earning support for your ideas and strategies." (Make sure the link is live if placed in an eZine or in a web site.)



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