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The Language of Leaders by Kevin Murray

16th Feb 2012
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The author starts with the valid point that communication inside and outside the business is one of the key leadership skills yet is often neglected and not seen as a sufficiently important priority for development. Having made that point he moves on to put forward his own recipe for success over sixteen highly readable chapters, apparently based on conversations with about sixty 60 ‘top leaders’.
There are however two problems. First of all the proportion of leaders that I had heard of is quite small, the most impressive being Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, and Clive Woodward of British Lions fame. It didn’t help credibility when the author admitted in the introduction that Richard Branson had turned him down! The second problem is that the advice often comes over as rather obvious and sometimes quite patronising. The tone is set in the first chapter when ‘keep it simple’ and ‘stand up for what you believe in’ are offered as secrets of success. This tone continues when, in chapter three, we have ‘twelve principles of leadership communication’, most of which we would look for when recruiting a new trainer!
Nevertheless the book is well written and I was particularly impressed by the way in which the messages were interwoven with quotes and stories from the leaders who were interviewed. And not all the messages are obvious or superficial. Murray is a big advocator of stories as a way of communicating and an entire chapter is devoted to this topic; ‘logic gets to the brain, stories get to the heart’ is his argument. I also liked his emphasis on preparation before public speaking though most leaders would perhaps feel that this is something they have realised by now.
I warmed more towards the author as I progressed through the book and the fact that the messages come through his interviewees helped to overcome my initial cynicism. It is nothing new to be told that authenticity, trust and values are vital to good communication by leaders but when this message comes from the mouths of Polman, Woodward, Rose (M&S) and Gent (Glaxo) it tends to have more credibility. I particularly liked the comment of Sir Stuart Rose who was quoted as saying that for a leader, ‘communication is the day job’.
Though he doesn’t use the term, Kevin Murray is really saying that good leaders need a high level of emotional intelligence, which we really knew already. My view is that a book like this could be useful for someone at the early stage of aspiring to be a top leader; it is less suitable for the more experienced who are there or nearly there.



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