This week, P3 is publishing selected extracts from the new book ‘What we mean when we talk about leadership’, by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove, published last month by Infinite Ideas. They are joint creators of the Thinkers50, the original global ranking of business thought leaders, and editors of the Financial Times Handbook of Management. This latest book is based on a range of interviews with various leaders, spoken to over the course of their careers.

Imagine you are CEO of a major corporation. The information you have suggests major problems lie ahead. Sales are falling. Market share is under threat. Talking to the world, do you honestly express your serious concerns about the business or do you put a protective gloss on reality? The latter is virtually always the answer. Faced with a patient, a doctor is more likely to offer an optimistic scenario than a negative one. When a politician meets a voter in the flesh, many voters express a deep commitment to voting for the politician in front of them. Often they fail to carry this through.

Leaders tailor their messages all the time. They don’t need spin doctors; it is human nature. Truth bends. This is not deception – well, usually not – but a kind of leadership artifice, realization that leadership is a show. Think of how a teacher grabs a class’s attention. Think of how you might take a meeting by storm. Think of how a leader enters the room and raises the atmosphere. Leadership may not be show business, but the leader tends to wear some greasepaint.

There is no denying the theatrical element necessary to succeed as a leader. ‘The example I use with the executives that I work with is a Broadway or a West End play. People in a show do not say, oh my foot hurts, I don’t feel too good today, I’m in a bad mood. Why? Because it is show time. I tell the executives that the kid on the stage is making 2 percent of what you’re making. If they can go out there, night after night after night, and be a professional, then so can you,’ says the executive coach Marshall Goldsmith.

How a leader behaves makes a difference. If they are miserable, their mood is infectious. A casual offhand remark can spread through the organization like wildfire. Every moment. Every move. Every word and every communication has an audience and has an impact on that audience.

Extract from page 47 of 'What we mean when we talk about leadership'

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