The Language of Leaders: A book review by Bob Morris

The Language of Leaders: How Top CEO’s Communicate to Inspire, Influence and Achieve Results 
Kevin Murray
Kogan-Page (2012)

How and why your values-driven behavior speaks much louder than anything you say, however eloquently

Kevin Murray shares what he learned during his interviews of 57 business leaders plus contributions by four others. Almost all have UK backgrounds and current affiliations and thus provide perspectives that I found of special interest. It came as no surprise, however, that what has helped them to influence others to achieve high-impact results is essentially no different from what has also proven effective for other leaders in the Americas, Europe, and Asia: effective communication.

In Chapter 3, he identifies and examines what he characterizes as “the 12 principles of effective communication” and none is a head-snapping revelation, nor does Murray make any such claim. They range from “Learn how to be yourself, better, if you aspire to be a better leader and communicator” to “Learn, rehearse, review, improve – always strive to be a better communicator.” If you were to draw up a list of the greatest leaders throughout history, my guess is that – however different they may be in most respects – all were an effective communicator and most (if not all) were a master raconteur.

The title of this book refers to “language” in both verbal and non-verbal domains. In fact, as countless research studies have proven, body language and tone of voice determine at least 80-85% of impact during a face-to-face encounter, with the remainder of impact determined by what is actually said. Moreover, as Murray correctly points out, aspiring leaders must have credibility as well as communication skills. Bill George is among those who have much of great value to say about “authenticity” that develops while following a True North. James O’Toole asserts that all great leaders possess what he characterizes as a “moral compass.” The point is, people will not believe the message if they do not trust the messenger.

Murray offers an especially crisp and concise description of inspiring leaders who make us want to achieve more. “They persuade us to their cause, win our active support, help us to work better together and make us feel proud to be part of the communities they create…If need be, great leaders [also] get us to face ugly reality, and then give us a new sense of direction and optimism. Along the way, they help us to see how what we do makes a difference. They listen to us and they respect us. We feel involved and committed. We watch them for cues, and we feel great when they recognize our efforts – and then we try even harder.”

As I read this portion of the book’s Introduction, I immediately thought of Winston Churchill’s frank communications throughout the worst of the Battle of Britain during the summer and autumn of 1940. Yes, Churchill inspired people to fight on but he left no doubt as to the perils his nation and its people faced. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering…You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

Murray, those he interviewed, and others who also contributed to the process offer an abundance of information, insights, and wisdom that can help almost anyone to develop a fluency in “the language of leaders” but, that said, I hasten to emphasize once again what Murray stresses throughout the book: Trust is essential to leadership and people will only trust and respect those who are authentic.

Those who aspire to become great leaders, and to engage others in the achievement of great results, must effectively communicate those values that guide and inform their behavior. Fluency without integrity is, at best, artifice and at worst, deceit…or as the example of Adolph Hitler suggests, evil. Leaders must be worthy of those whom they are privileged to serve.

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  1. kare anderson on April 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    “Effective” involves being understood and trusted so key communication traits for me are that leaders are:
    • sufficiently specific about what they stand for and want and how they will recognize and reward such behavior
    • congruent in their behavior so we trust that they mean what they say
    •supportive of others using their best talent together to optimize the organization’s performance and that of individuals together: fuels accomplishment and camaraderie.

    Unless a would be leader has these traits there is a much greater chance of not being understood and supported
    ~ another fan of Bob Morris

    • bobmorris on April 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm

      Bingo! Long ago I realized that reputation is the shadow cast by character, for better or worse. Thank you for your comments, Kare. They are much appreciated.

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