Since today is President’s Day, I figured it would be a good day to talk about leadership at the highest level. Whether you’re the President of the United States or the president of a company, being a successful executive requires some skills in addition to the ones necessary to excel at lower levels of management. Today we’ll look at the following three:
- Public Speaking and presentations.
- Managing egos.
Each US President from George Washington to George W. Bush had these skills before becoming President (some were better than others) so we’ll use some Presidential examples.
Ronald Reagan was called “The Great Communicator,” JFK still inspires others with his words more than 40 years after his death and Abraham Lincoln’s civil war speeches were turning points in history. The higher up the chain of command that you are, the more you need to speak to groups. Just the like the President has to address joint sessions of congress and national conventions, company presidents need to address stockholders, employees and deliver keynotes at conferences. And when you give talks at this level, you have to be perfect from the words you choose to way you deliver them. People analyze your words in an attempt to read between the lines and watch your body language to figure out if you’re being insincere or trying to hide something.
So just being able to talk to a group isn’t enough. You need to be able to deliver a talk that gets your audience to take action. You want the audience to feel certain emotions. You want the audience to trust and respect your point of view. All of this requires extreme preparation — from getting a great speechwriter to practicing your talk in front of a room of advisors. Welcome to the big league of public speaking.
Napoleon Hill talks about how President Franklin Roosevelt got us out of the Great Depression in his book, “Think and Grow Rich” by using his communication skills. FDR, the only President elected four times, got the members of both houses of congress to go along with his plan — including people from the opposition party. He then got the state governors involved as well as community and religious leaders.
The President of the US has to get both houses of congress on board to pass any legislation. Company Presidents need to get their boards, star players and sometimes government officials on board to get things done — and these people typically have their own egos and agendas. This differs tremendously from getting the five people that work for you to do a good job — you need to negotiate, explain why your way is in their best interest, and sometimes do things you don’t want to you in order to get things accomplished.
When Bill Clinton walks into a room, all eyes suddenly turn to him. In the political world, former Presidents have a rock star like aura to them and are often able to turn around those that dislike them in a single conversation. Just like elected officials need to be liked by their constituents, company presidents need to be liked by their employees, customers and shareholders. Being able to win people over in a one on one situation is critical for success in any endeavor.
So that’s just a brief overview of how communication skills differ between executives and leaders. We’ll get into more details about these skills in later posts.