Advances in social media and digital communication technologies mean that leadership is no longer a relationship that operates purely on a personal or face-to-face level. Leadership communications can be quickly curated, amplified and shared through multiple channels using an ever-growing range of digital formats, including webex, mobile chat forums, online broadcasts, video sharing, social media, etc.
Many leaders are embracing these new technologies and exploiting their full potential. However, some are still anxious and reluctant to move beyond their comfort zone and fully leverage what’s on offer. So how can you strengthen your leadership presence in this new digital age?
Build your charisma
Charisma is also vital for senior leaders. It underpins a leader’s presence, likeability and influence. It is easy to spot by taking a measure of a leader’s charm, confidence and personal magnetism. Leaders like Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Arianna Huffington are examples of how powerful charisma can be in engaging people when it is used in a positive, rather than self-serving, way.
Developing charisma is not easy. However, the good news is that is can be learned by any leader, regardless of their personality.
Some of the key steps are:
- Show an interest in others as humans not just employees. Ask them questions to find out about their interests, values, aspirations and hobbies. Be warm and friendly, not distant and cool. A charismatic CEO of a global company I once worked for used to personally greet and shake the hand of every delegate before presenting to groups of our international managers. Many of the delegates commented to me on how great it felt to be acknowledged and appreciated in this way.
- Demonstrate empathy by putting yourself in others’ shoes. Understand not just what they are saying, but the values and feelings behind their words. Listen actively and use techniques like summarizing and paraphrasing to clarify your understanding and show you’re interested.
- Learn tips and techniques from the greatest most charismatic leaders by watching videos, movies and reading books about inspiring leaders. Resources like Ted Talks is a great place to start if you only have time to focus on one source.
- Many C-suite leaders in top Fortune 500 and FTSE100 companies get professional media and communications training. This is not just to limit reputational risks when they’re talking to the media. It is also to help them become better at public speaking. Anyone can become a more engaging, impactful speaker and communicator if they learn the right techniques. Get some training and sign up to a Toastmasters or equivalent to learn and practice your presentation skills.
Repeat key messages
You will notice how politicians repeat the same catch phrases over and over again, a deliberate technique designed to ensure their message sticks. Examples like “Make America Great Again” (US Republican party slogan) and “The Rainbow Nation” (Mandela’s unifying call) resonate with many people, regardless of their political views. In my experience, many business leaders can learn a lot from this technique. Few are good at formulating inspirational and unifying “slogans” and “catch phrases” that they repeat and reinforce over time.
If leaders want to be more charismatic, they need to become skilful in delivering brief, consistent and memorable messages. To illustrate and reinforce your messages, use powerful symbols. Examples include reading out positive (or critical) customer emails or doing live demonstrations of new, innovative products. You can also invite people to your organization to talk about examples of how your ideas can work in practice. For example, if you want to highlight the benefits of digital transformation, find people to share their experiences and learning about using the latest bots, AI and other innovative technologies to deliver better results.
Choose your channel/s
Choose your channels carefully and try to master them. Trump and Twitter are synonymous now because he loves this format and knows how to craft and deliver his message through it. Even if you don’t like the content of his messages, most would acknowledge that this direct, informal and concise channel is a powerful way to reach and engage his base.
I suggest you choose no more than two or three digital channels as your default options rather than trying to achieve mastery in them all. This will ensure you become skilful in these formats and have a better chance to reach your audience in a world characterised by data overload and saturation. The format you choose should also be appropriate, engaging and inclusive for your target audience. Ideally, you should try to mix informal face to face with online and digital channels. The former typically enables you to connect with people at a deeper emotional level, something that is more difficult with most digital channels.
Encourage debate and challenge
Many top leaders get annoyed that they don’t get challenged enough. This undermines trust, respect and their presence. In my experience, they are usually to blame. Constructive debate and challenge require frequent encouragement and empowerment by top management. People need to feel they’ve been given a ‘license’ to challenge upwards and reassurance that this won’t lead to retaliation or negative consequences. By creating a safe environment for people to challenge openly, leaders can strengthen the quality of dialogue in the company while at the same time building their presence.
Watch your words
Many leaders are careless with their words and this comes back to haunt them, undermining their presence and reputation. Even highly successful business leaders like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have been caught out by ill-timed, emotionally charged or defensive tweets. Communication like this is only going to undermine people’s respect and trust in your leadership. So watch your words and avoid impulsive, poorly timed and emotional communication.
About the Author
Founder and MD | Leadership Consultant | Organizational Psychologist
James is a leadership consultant, organizational psychologist and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams and organizations globally to optimize their performance, talent and future success. He specializes in positive leadership, thriving workplaces, collaboration and influencing, organizational change and transformation, accelerating innovation and coaching executives and leaders in innovative sectors including Tech, Digital, E-commerce and Life Sciences.
Before setting up Plexus Leadership, James held leadership roles in HR and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as NatWest, Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. After this, he founded and led several talent and leadership consulting and assessment businesses, including Strengthscope®, an online strengths assessment and development business serving a wide range of UK and global clients. James grew this venture into a global market leader before selling the business in 2018.
James has supported, advised and coached leaders and teams globally across diverse industries and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury’s, Swiss Re, Tesco, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, WSP and Yahoo!.
James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching and a Harvard Business qualification in Sustainable Business Strategy. He is a member of the Institute of Directors, the Association of Business Psychologists and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD). He is currently undertaking a PhD in Organizational Psychology examining the start-up experiences of Tech and Digital entrepreneurs.
James is a regular contributor and speaker on leadership, coaching, innovative talent management and the future of work. His most recent book, Optimize Your Strengths, explores how leaders can create thriving workplaces by inspiring and supporting people to optimize their potential and teamwork to deliver breakthrough results.