It is often said that you cannot lead if you cannot communicate. But, as Björn Edlund points out, it is also true that you cannot communicate with impact unless you can lead. He asks:
- What is communications leadership?
- What are the traits of a successful communications leader?
- Is the function different to how its leaders need to behave in order to galvanize their teams, as well as their C suite colleagues?
Here’s his opening keynote at EuroComm 2015, the conference for members in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa of IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators.
Björn Edlund shares experiences from nearly 20 years as Chief Communications Officer in three multinational corporations, working for 11 CEOs through external and self-created crises and deep corporate transformations.
At the heart of much of the discussion at day 1 of the IABC’s EuroComm Conference in London was the changing nature of the environment in which communicators are working.
Not only is technology changing, and the expectations of executive teams, but the nature of communicators’ expectations of their senior managers is also developing.
Are communicators natural players in the C suite?
Björn Edlund, formerly of Royal Dutch Shell and now a communications consultant and owner of Edlund Consulting, believes that communicators must be respected as a valid member of the C Suite in organisations.
“We must be, in order to be effective. And we ought to be, because at its most ambitious, public relations is truly and completely about how to lead. It starts by helping our C Suite colleagues find the words and imagery – the narrative – that best express their strategic intent.”
Mr Edlund referenced one of the key themes that cropped up several times during the Eurocomm conference – the matter of trust, and its importance for communicators:
“A facilitator leads through competence and inclusion, often the best way for a functional expert to wield power. Trust will enable you to nudge the rest of the C Suite team along in a shared direction.”
How do we help leaders lead?
It’s simple enough to outline how we need to act within organisations – support leaders in their messaging, engagement and communications – but how does one move tactical work to a strategic level?
The starting point is to see the value of your involvement. As Björn Edlund puts it:
“It is the No. 1 job of PR to help business leaders recognize and meet a deep-seated human need, of both individuals and groups, to be included, inspired, engaged and rallied towards a common goal. It is our job to lead C suite discussions away from the false certainty and comfort of Excel spread sheets, customer analyses and market projections to thorny explorations of distrust, dissent, conflict and controversy – of why people and communities may be closing not only their doors, but also their hearts and minds – and their wallets – to us, and how to engage them constructively – ideally on their terms.”
CEO as storyteller
Björn Edlund referenced a seminal time in his working career, at ABB in a time of great crisis, when he was reporting to CEO Jürgen Dormann in 2002.
The challenge was to develop internal communications that built community and trust – and it seems the two made a formidable pair. Each week they would craft a CEO letter that was authentic and honest and tackled the firms’ issues with integrity – that set the right tone from the top, encouraging the rest of the executive team to lead by this example. As Mr Edlund puts it:
“I believe company leaders need three forms of intelligence – business smarts and a good IQ, and a superior EQ (or emotional intelligence). But, also a well-developed SQ (societal intelligence) that lets them see and act on their company’s purpose and role in society, and build better connections with all stakeholders.”
People, structure and process are key – choosing the right people to surround you who are conversant with change and who can listen and empathise.
Most importantly, leaders today need to know how to apply their power wisely, “with respect and kindness, clarity and humility”.
- Read Bjorn’s speech for EuroComm on Leadership Communications.
Bjorn Edlund founded Edlund Consulting, a network of expert corporate relations and social responsibility consultancies specializing in analysis of stakeholder, government and community opinion. He became a business communicator in 1989 after a 12-year career as a news agency reporter, bureau chief and regional news editor with UPI and Reuters in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. He is a visiting fellow at Henley Business School, a trustee of the Institute of Human Rights and Business, and a former trustee of IPR.
Follow Björn on Twitter: @mentoredlund