Book Review 3: The Leaders Voice by Clarke and Crossland
About 13 years ago, while leading a team at Microsoft, I found myself a little surprised by some of the problems I was having. It’s not immodest to say that, in general, I’m a good communicator. I’ll stand in front of fifteen thousand people to share a product vision quite comfortably. Or I’ll sit down for a TV interview and be relaxed. I can structure my thoughts, build my messages and respond to questions on the fly.
But … At that time, I was struggling with communication about our product, in particular trying to hold together a public story about why our work was vital and compelling alongside an internal company story about how we were going to deliver something - anything! - that was fraught with compromises.
One of my mentors perceptively pointed me to this book.
I was skeptical. For one thing, I’m not fond of the business book genre. Moreover, I’m very turned off by the contemporary cult of leadership which I think tends to feed the egos of self-described leaders. Yet this was a business book about leadership, already 10 or 12 years on the market when I first read it.
Here’s what I needed to know …
… and what I learned. Communication is not one skill. There’s a multiplicity of techniques involved and your use of them is improved by conscious work. It’s not enough to be a natural speaker or writer at ease with your subject.
Even though I was good at most techniques individually, there’s another integrating skill involved which I had to improve. The art of knowing how and when to use each approach for the situation in hand. What works for the convention hall, does not work for the TV interview, clearly enough. But equally, what works for the team, does not work for the struggling developer.
So Clarke and Crossland describe frameworks which can help you to select and tune communication techniques for different scenarios. Their Quadrant of Communication contrasting public with private, direct with indirect, modes is a particularly useful example.
As you read this, you’re probably thinking it’s rather obvious and now you don’t need to read the book! To be fair, there are plenty business books like that: it’s one of the reasons I have little time for them. Very often, you can can learn all you need to form an article or abstract.
However, I do recommend reading this one and enjoying how Clarke and Crossland build up frameworks for dealing with facts, emotions, symbols, silos and - inevitably - corporate vision.
This book is dated now. Some of the examples - Rudy Giuliani, heaven help us! - have not aged well. However you can buy an old copy cheaply and the frameworks do stand the test of time. They have helped every manager and communicator to whom I have suggested The Leader’s Voice and they will help you too.
There’s a second edition. I have not read it, so I cannot recommend it. Maybe it is better? I have always found the first edition to be helpful enough.
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