The Communicators: A Book review by Bob Morris

The Communicators: Leadership in an Age if Crisis
Richard S. Levick with Charles Slack
Watershed Press (2010)

Effective leadership as demonstrated by mindset-guided and values-driven behavior

Written by Richard Levick with Charles Slack, this is definitely not an “easy read” but, that said, it generously rewards those who read it with appropriate care and especially, those who then re-read it, as I did.  Levick organizes his material within nine clusters of “rules,” each cluster serving as a theme or dimension of leadership. Each of the 40 “rules” is an obvious point of emphasis or affirmation. For example, “Leadership is visible motion” (#4), “Exercise good faith management” (#8), “Knowledge is power” (#18), or “When facts don’’t natter, forget the facts” (#35). Merely listing several by no means diminishes their value. There are reasons why aphorisms, bromides, etc. endure for centuries: they concisely express an essential truth. Levick anchors each in a modern context.

He frames the clusters and their respective “rules” within a framework that presupposes the inevitability of a crisis. I agree with him that able leaders respond effectively to a crisis; great leaders either avoid crises or take full advantage of them to unleash new opportunities. (In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that the greatest leader is he who has the wisdom and temperament to avoid a battle. He also said that every battle is won or lost before it is fought. Anticipate and prepare for everything.) I commend Levick on his brilliant use of real-world situations that illustrate the wisdom of various rules that serve as insights, guidelines, and (with modification) as strategies or tactics. A few of his exemplars were familiar to me; most were not. There are valuable lessons to be learned from them.

With regard to the title, great leaders throughout history demonstrated their skills as a communicator when confronted by crises of immeasurable peril. Passion and conviction were even more important than eloquence when President Franklin Roosevelt broadcast his “fireside chats” and Winston Churchill spoke frankly to the English people during their nation’s “darkest hour.”

As Levick explains so well, great leaders have a unique mindset that guides and informs their decisions, to be sure, but also their behavior when in a crisis. They attract and retain support because they have earned the respect and trust of those whom they feel privileged to lead.

To conclude this brief commentary, I share my favorite passage from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.” 

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