Leadership communications at EuroComm

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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.

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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.

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Coaching Body Language in the C-Suite

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The senior vice president of a Fortune 500 company is speaking at a corporate communication conference. He’s a polished presenter with an impressive selection of organizational “war stories” delivered with a charming, self-deprecating sense of humor. The audience likes him. They like him a lot.

Then, as he finishes his comments, he folds his arms across his chest and says, “I’m open for questions. Please, ask me anything.”

Suddenly, there is a shift of energy in the room – from engagement to uncertainty. The audience that was so attentive only moments ago is now somehow disconnected and unable to think of anything to ask.

I was at that event. As one of the presenters scheduled to follow the executive, I was seated at a table onstage with a clear view of the entire room. And the minute I saw that single gesture, I knew exactly how the audience would react.

Later I talked with the speaker (who didn’t realize he’d crossed his arms) and interviewed members of the audience (none of whom recalled the gesture, but all of whom remembered struggling to come up with a question).

So what happened – how could a simple arm movement that none of the participants were even aware of have had such a potent impact?
And what does this mean to the executives you coach?

In preparing for an important meeting most executives concentrate on what to say, memorizing crucial points, and rehearsing their presentation so they will come across as credible and convincing.

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