Leadership Communication: New Insights to Engage Others to Create the Future

By BlessingWhite , a Division of GP Strategies


[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of our thought partners and dear friends, Terry Pearce, has recently written the third edition of the ground-breaking and classic work Leading Out Loud©. The book addresses Leadership Communication — a unique practice, separate from our ability to merely get things done — and is the basis for BlessingWhite’s offerings in this field. This work integrates personal conviction and professional capability in a way that inspires — ourselves and others.


Pearce believes effective leadership communication starts with ourselves, that it deals in our ability to communicate who we are and what we stand for in our life in the context of leading others. It requires more from leaders than ever before — more introspection, more courage and more persistence — not something comfortable for many of us in today’s demanding business world. Pearce says, “It requires the courage to give voice to change messages we are required to communicate as senior leaders, as well as to develop the skills of connecting in a way that will inspire others to engage with the ideas and passion of the leader, and awaken the passion in each of those who elect to follow.”


Leadership Communication, as defined by Pearce, includes and goes far beyond the blocking and tackling skills taught to nearly every manager in the corporate world. It is accomplishing real progress and bold change around significant challenges: inspiring others to walk into the dark woods with us. In BlessingWhite’s Leading Out Loud (the powerful leadership experience based on the book) I have personally witnessed leaders using the insights and tools to deliver real business impact such as reducing cycle times in service, saving millions of dollars in process changes and launching new businesses in record speed. In all cases, the leader and his/her experiences were the fabric woven into the tapestry of the communication.


The Third Edition

Pearce’s newest edition of Leading Out Loud, available February 2013, is subtitled “A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future’. It reflects a more global perspective and explores more deeply the role of inspiration in leadership. It delineates the factors that make leadership communication a distinct skill, and includes implications from neuroscience regarding empathy, impulse control, and brain plasticity. It informs us of the nature of communication that crosses all cultures, helps us gain an understanding of the drivers of inspiration, and refines and expands the practical tools designed to assist leaders in preparing for the entire range of communication.


Part One outlines the principles of Leadership Communication, which include the following:


  • Discovering What Matters
  • Deepening Emotional Awareness
  • Connecting With Others
  • Writing — Applying Discipline to Authenticity


In this section, Pearce has tapped new research and experience on the importance of the Self of the leader.


In 1995, Daniel Goleman made the case for emotional intelligence (E.I.) as fundamental to leadership. From the work of Paul Ekman we also know that people have an innate ability to recognize emotion in others, and this ability is not relative to a particular culture.


This is where Pearce goes further in his new edition. “Beyond mere recognition of the emotions in ourselves and others, central aspects of E.I. — empathy (resonance), regulation of our internal process, and responding rather than reacting — can be developed throughout our life as well. Science formerly postulated that the ability to relate emotionally was fixed by genetics and childhood environment, but it is now well-documented that these traits can be altered by practice and new experiences. This has enormous implications for all of us.


For example: how many of us have found ourselves reacting versus responding when it has come to decisions at work or at home? Well, we now know that our limbic system (emotional brain) is an astounding 80,000 times faster that our cerebral cortex (or logical, thinking brain). Our consciousness can easily be hijacked by our emotional brain (our amygdala), resulting in (more often than not) undesirable consequences.


“In addition, as leaders with limited or underdeveloped connection skills, we can fall into the trap of ignoring the feelings of others and using intimidation to accomplish tasks, a strategy that will last for a very short time before people in creative and technical environments move on or reduce their discretionary efforts.” Pearce takes on these challenges with new perspective.


Part Two details the content of the Personal Leadership Communication Guide: A Biography with a Purpose. It outlines what it takes to Establish Competence and Build Trust, Create Shared Context, Declare and Describe a Compelling Future, and Commit To Action. The last chapter expands on the daily application of the Guide in all venues and media.


Expanded insights in this section include a broader and deeper understanding of the effectiveness of narrative and image in engaging others. Pearce makes finer distinctions between analogy and metaphor, image and symbol, and story, personal experience and myth. This new understanding deepens our ability to craft communication that connects deeply, wherever our constituents might be.


Convincing and connecting are different and yet the behavior of others is substantially different depending on what we are focused on. Clearly, leaders must use and communicate facts and data with logic to make their case to drive change. But data alone does not “move” people. Leaders must constantly communicate the “why” that makes the actions meaningful — and by doing so, engage others more deeply.


Pearce writes, “Whether we are heading up a volunteer effort, a business, a club, an orchestra, a city, a country or a revolution, leaders must include the emotional and the spiritual implications of the actions they advocate, and those implications must be in the soul of the leader. And so much of this comes from our own life experiences. We can be our own vehicle for change.” In our coaching and leadership work, we ask leaders the following: Why this issue, why are you the one to lead this, and why now?


Our stories define us, and are consistently reliable metaphors for the changes we lead. The book cites Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, who found himself at seven years old with a father who had a broken leg and a mother who took in washing from others just to make ends meet. He saw that his father had been worn down by the system, going from job to job, never having health insurance. When he got hurt he didn’t work, and the family didn’t eat. Schultz grew up to become CEO of Starbucks, and later wrote about his response to his father’s plight: “Years later, that image of my father — slumped over on the family couch, his leg in a cast, unable to work or earn money, and ground down by the world — is still so burned into my mind. Looking back now, I have a lot of respect for my dad. He never finished high school, but he was an honest man who worked hard…” (cite: H. Schultz and D. Jones Yang, Pour Your Heart into It (New York: Hyperion, 1997), pp. 3, 4.)


What value did Schultz generate from this experience? The value of “never leaving anyone behind,” of creating a real “sense of community.” Schultz grew up determined to craft a place that would take care of those who worked there. As a result of that value, he was the first to successfully lobby the SEC to grant limited ownership rights to part-time Starbucks employees.


Schultz’s drive is a direct outcome of his experience of his father and his defining moments in life. What are some of your defining moments that formed the basis for your own values and what you find most important in your life? Can you think about them and speak to them? What was happening and who was present? What was the outcome of those events? Did some of those experiences make you who you are today?


Stories are different from personal experience and certainly different from universal mythology. In the same way, images are different from symbols and analogy is different from metaphor. To master these differences is to approach a mastery of leadership communication, and to begin to comprehend and use other distinctions so critical to the engagement of others.


Leadership Communication: Competence and Connection


Competence and Connection are the primary dynamics of Leadership Communication. In Leading Out Loud, Pearce discusses the distinctions that “inspire” vs. simply “motivate.” In the end, the leader is not a “change agent” as often declared in the popular literature, but rather a “creator of progress.” The distinction between the two — change and progress — is real.


Do any of us like change? As Pearce suggests from the documentation, most do not. “Change can seem whimsical, upsetting and without purpose. Change does not necessarily have a positive direction — it can put us out of our routine and leave us without bearings. Change can also be associated with the lack of ability to control our own environment. As such, ‘change’ seems imposed, by some authority or by chance, rather than being self-generated. It is often felt as having unpleasant consequences. The word ‘change’ connotes short-term and perhaps temporary conditions that seem negative.”


But as much as people hate change, almost everyone loves progress — because it connotes moving forward toward a condition or set of circumstances that is new and favorable. Progress is the positive result of change. The difference between change and progress is created in the communication of a leader who has thought through the implications of change against a prism of values and a compelling and vivid future. Only when this distinction is complete is it reasonable to expect to start resolving the second set of competing tensions, compliance and commitment.


“Compliance,” says Pearce, “implies an outside power commanding obedience. This may sound harsh, but whether it is the voice of your boss, your parent, the police, or the tax collector, this is no more a case of you doing what is required. It is the leader’s job to communicate in such a way that the supporting values are clear, that people have an opportunity to be fully invested in the outcomes of their actions. Such communication necessarily has to do with the principles at stake, the goals they are to jointly achieve, and how the leader’s own personal values are aligned with the greater purpose. Such reflection will allow the leader to inspire commitment rather than merely enforce compliance.”


Other Important Distinctions


Change and progress are but two of the fundamental tensions that distinguish leadership communication from our normal way of communicating with partners in action. Other distinctions, says Pearce, include


institutional objectives
personal motivation
logical payoffs
emotional and spiritual rewards


By communicating in a way that integrates these tensions, a leader demonstrates both competence and trustworthiness, and can inspire rather than motivate, creating commitment rather than mere compliance. Examine the differences in the left side and the right side of the word pairs and determine what makes them worth thinking about.


Leadership Communication is different. It provides inspiration, promotes commitment, binds us in purpose and character, shows understanding of differences, builds commonality, engages others in meaning and values, and reveals the fundamentals of character in all who are pulling together to create a new future. The third edition of Leading Out Loud continues to enhance our understanding of this field, and helps us to become the leaders that will be required to cope with and master our evolving world.


Who Are You and What Are You Here To Do?


Gary Fiedel, Pearce’s friend and accountant from the 80s and 90s, had on his answering machine the following recording: “Hi, this is Gary, and this is not an answering machine, it is a questioning machine. The two questions are “Who Are You and What Do You Want?” Then there was a pause and the message added, “And if you think those are trivial questions, consider that 95 percent of the population goes through life and never answers either one!”


Pearce’s work in this new edition takes Fiedel’s thinking one step further. Pearce now asks, “Who are you, and WHAT ARE YOU HERE TO DO?” This is certainly a challenging question, and we are confident the new edition is the resource you need to start truly exploring the answer.


Excerpts from third edition of Leading Out Loud©, by Terry Pearce, published by Jossey-Bass, a mark of John Wiley and Sons, released and in stores February 4, 2013.