Why Great Speakers Are Great Leaders
Great leadership starts with the ability to communicate. That's what your business – and team – need you to be. Here's how to get started.
Last night I was talking at an event on scaling a business. The event was hosted by a mate of mine, Matt Brown (you should listen to his podcast), and it was called Secrets of Scale. Let me tell you the secret right now. There is no secret.
It’s not a lack of knowledge that stops us, it’s all out there. It’s a lack of commitment to the strategies that actually scale business. The same can be said for leadership. People keep reading articles, buying books, and listening to podcasts that teach them to lead, and the truth is, it’s pretty easy... you just decide to do it, and then do.
Do you remember that film Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks? There was a scene where he was at home with his family and friends watching the moon landing. He was clearly moved and he got up for a second and went outside to just stare at the moon. When his wife joined him later, he had the distant moon between his opening and closing fingers. He didn’t take his eyes off the moon, he just said to her:
‘We now live in a world where man has walked on the moon.’ He then paused and turned to her before continuing: ‘... and it’s not a miracle ... we just decided to go.’
We just decided to go.
Those are the three most powerful words in the English language.
Christopher Columbus decided to go.
Elon Musk decided to go.
Nelson Mandela decided to go.
Napoleon Bonaparte decided to go.
And Rosa Parks decided to go (albeit by deciding not to go).
And that is the problem facing every single aspiring leader. They haven’t decided to go. They haven’t decided to lead. You see, leadership is the easiest thing in the world to do. You just lead.
Most of us don’t, though. I’ve had my business for over two decades. When it started, I came to work every day, the fearless leader. I took control, I drove a vision, I rallied the troops. I led our staff, and I led our clients on a journey to presentation glory.
I was unstoppable! I was the teacher, and I was the tyrant. I was relentless in my vision to grow the business and save the world, one bored audience at a time. The business started to grow, the vision started to become a reality, and then one morning I woke up, went to work and discovered that I’d become a manager.
Finding your sweet spot in your business
Now, when I stood up to speak to the team, it was to run a Monday morning status huddle. Gone was the teacher, gone was the tyrant. I’d become the number-crunching, productivity-promoting, sales-pushing manager that I thought the business needed. And it did. It just didn’t need me to do it.
In Felix Dennis’ fantastic book How to Get Rich, he said the following:
You may have to masquerade as a manager for a short while on the way to becoming rich. And you should strive to be a good manager while the role is forced on you. But even if you discover you truly have a talent for the minutiae the management requires, it’s best you abandon the role just as soon as you can afford to hire the appropriate personnel.
I masqueraded as a manager for far too long and, as such, I ceased to be a leader. Are they mutually exclusive? No. You can do both. However, much like a heart surgeon who can also snowboard, they’re often skills that you put to use at different times.
So, what did I do to start changing that? It was simple, I started speaking again. I asked, I listened, I learned, and I shared. I stood up in front of my team and I spoke to them. I spoke to them about the mistakes I made. I spoke to them about the problems I wanted to solve.
I spoke to them about the ideas I had for solving them – both for the company, and the world. I started to speak, and I started to lead again. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook famously said, ‘Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.’
Speaking does this – and that’s why I’ve kicked off a book about presenting with a discussion on leadership – because that’s the endgame.
(Great) leadership is the endgame
At Missing Link we have nine ‘things’ that we do as part of our DNA. One of them is to solve the problem – and what we know, despite the fact that we run a presentation company, is that being a better presenter is not the problem. Being a better leader is. Either a thought leader, or a team leader.
Presenting is simply the means to an end. So, I do want you to become a better presenter, but only because it will help you become a better leader, and not just a more effective manager.
Do me a favour. Jump onto Google quick and do an image search for the words ‘greatest managers’. What do you find? I’ll bet it’s row after row of vomit-inducing stock imagery of managers sitting around a table smiling at one another, or shaking hands.
If you aspire to be those people, put this book down, sunshine, it’s not for you. Scroll down a bit further ... and if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who manage soccer teams.
Now do me another favour... search for the term ‘leaders’ and what do you find? Right, the same vomit-inducing stock images (you have to hand it to the stock photography guys, those mofos know their way around SEO). But scroll down a bit and you’ll find people who have changed the world.
There’s JFK and MLK. There’s Hitler and Roosevelt. There’s Jobs and Gates. What did they all have in common? When they spoke, the world listened – and Gates is still doing just that – check out his work on malaria
The difference between a leader and a manager is the ability to communicate.
You’ll notice, by the way, that I left the word ‘well’ off the end of that sentence. Was Gates a great communicator? He’s much better now, but that wasn’t always the case. However, he did stand up and speak. You just have to look at Elon Musk to see that you don’t have to be good at speaking to lead – that guy is no Cicero – but I’d never want to stand between him and an angry mob of his followers.
To lead is to speak, and to speak is to lead. That’s the job. The skill bit will come and, like most things in life, the more you do it properly, the better you’ll become. The key word there is properly. I wrote this page to get you to speak. I wrote this book to get you to do it properly.
So, before you go any further, draft a mail to your entire team (you don’t have to be in charge, you just have to aspire to be at some point) and invite them all to a talk you’re going to give in two weeks’ time. Call it ‘thought leadership’.
Two weeks might seem short but, to quote the late great Duke Ellington: ‘I don’t need time, what I need is a deadline.’
So, give yourself a deadline. I’ll give you the rest.
This article is an excerpt from Richard Mulholland's book, Boredom Slayer: A Speakers Guide To Presenting Like A Pro, available in all good bookstores.