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Many of the books on project and business management I review are written outside the UK. It was therefore a pleasure to read about companies I know and see the scenarios in a book that is UK-focused. Kevin Murray interviewed 60 CEOs and business leaders mainly from the UK for The Language of Leaders. He had to have the interviews transcribed, and ended up with 500,000 words. He identified many common themes and extracted 12 principles for leadership communication. These are the central premise for the book.
It is not enough to manage a project. Project managers must also be project leaders. They need to have the ability to communicate and influence others to get things done.
Murray writes that leaders today have to communicate with a wider range of people and use a wider variety of channels. Murray writes, “If you manage this environment effectively, you have more options to get your message across and build a great company where everyone wins.” Although the book doesn’t discuss project management, it is the same challenge that project leaders face. It is important to tailor messages to different stakeholder groups. Knowing more about communication can help improve project results.
Leadership communication principles
The Language of Leaders’ first section explains why leadership has changed. It also explains why communication is important, particularly in the context of multiple communication channels, the digital age, transparency, and the fact that communication is now instantaneous. People who have been following the evolution of social media and collaboration technology over the past few years will not be unfamiliar with any of these points.
The second section of Murray’s 12 principles for leadership communications is the focus of the book’s second section. These principles are all fascinating, but I found the most relevant to project management to be:
A compelling mission and powerful set of values can be shared with you.
Focus your people on the relationships that are crucial to your success.
Learn to listen in new and powerful ways and ask the right questions
Be aware of the signals that you send beyond your words
Your reputation is at risk if you don’t prepare for public platforms
Murray writes about the power and importance of conversation. A lot of the book is focused on verbal communication on camera, on stage or in one-on-one situations. Murray writes:
“The most important thing a leader can do when communicating with employees, is to show up!” There are many stories of leaders e-mailing instructions and not having face-to-face conversations with staff. Leaders must find ways to engage with their employees and ensure that supervisors and managers are engaged.
Or, in a project environment project managers must find ways to ensure that workstream and team leaders engage with their respective parts of the project team.
Always be on the show
The book is filled with stories and anecdotes. Murray interviewed leaders who spoke in stories. The book is filled with stories to illustrate the principles and concepts of leadership. Murray adheres to the novelists’ creed of show, do not tell.
These stories are informative, inspiring, and entertaining. However, you will often have to make your own conclusions about the communication messages they illustrate. It’s fine to use your brain to figure these things out, and if you don’t get the message of the story, each chapter ends by providing a list of takeaway soundbites.
One of my favorite stories illustrates the fact managers and leaders are equally important.