Leadership Positioning: amplifying the impact of the ambitious leader

When people hear about “business communication,” they often think it’s about “the business”: numbers, institutional announcements and soulless statements.

In my experience, it’s stories by and about individuals that get the attention, shape ideas and accelerate the flow of influence. I’ve found this to be true in organizations and even in communities and markets.

The business world is not monolithic. It is populated with individual leaders at all levels with objectives, visions and ambitions. These leaders have unique perspectives, personalities, interests and future plans which, when shared appropriately, can help provide traction – for their business initiatives, their desires to move onto new career tracks, and for efforts to rejuvenate relationships with internal influencers.

Leadership positioning has been a big part of my years of internal communication experience. Indeed, through profile articles, opinion pieces, social posts, audio and video bites, and rich feature articles putting initiatives and future plans into context and amplifying the role of leaders, it’s where I’ve had the most impact in the companies where I have worked.

It’s also increasingly interesting from an external communication perspective – particularly to support senior execs in making their cases for taking on new challenges, and establishing their credibility as experts and advocates beyond their current networks.

As we move into a period of likely economic uncertainty, leadership positioning also has the potential to give individual leaders in transition the opportunity to differentiate themselves in what could become a crowded market.

From an internal communication perspective, a strong approach to leadership profiling delivers three additional benefits. Two are fairly obvious. It can humanize senior management, it can surface and showcase emerging leaders and initiatives.

The third is pure ninja: it’s one of the best ways a communicator – and a communication team – can get a senior leader to see the power and value of a serious communication approach.

The main thing – writing and communication strategy are not core competencies of most C-suiters or senior managers, who are otherwise very strong and powerful in other disciplines.

So when these leaders are willing to seek and accept help, we can elevate their storytelling and messaging to the level of their own core competencies.

When we do that for them, we don’t have to be as defensive about ROI (Return On Investment). They start to believe in our LOI (Level of Impact). And when we succeed on that front, we literally change the terms.


Writing to Lead/Transcending Self-Censorship

As an internal communicator, it is true that I at my happiest when I am writing. But what’s less obvious to those who observe me is about when I am writing at my happiest.

That is when I am pushing the boundaries of self-censorship.

The fundamental question an internal communicator faces in front of the keyboard is “can I get this approved?”. At 16:30 on a Friday afternoon, that is a legitimate question, but seeking an affirmative response invariably leads to a descent into deep self-censorship.

Avoidance of confrontation with Above also fuels self-censorship. Such avoidance may seemingly contribute to enhanced job security, but at the price of diminished self respect, distinctiveness and organisational impact.

Self-censorship is necessary at times, particularly when relationships between communicators and their “line” on specific subjects have already been hammered out. But we do our organizations no favors when we draft for safety over impact when there is any possibility to get a subject to consider greater boldness.

At the same time, what we draft has to ring credibly from the mouths of those who speak those words or who approve their distribution on their behalf.

My own default position is clear. I start by asking myself: “What would I say if I were that person, in that situation, pursuing his or her own agenda and seeking maximum odds for success?”

I don’t get everything approved on that basis.

But I have never been yelled at, either for being too outrageous or too timid, in more than 20 years.

There is some navigating to do with this stance. It requires real knowledge of the involved content and where possible, empathy with the “speaker.”

Specifically, it requires a clear delineation between “what I would say in their position” and “what I think they would say if they had the words and confidence to say it”.

It requires confidence– in case one is asked to explain or encourage the use of bolder-than-expected wording.

And, it requires perspective – to always recognize that the subject or speaker has the final say.

But challenging the seductive safety of excessive self-censorship is where the communicator can move from being a stenographer to being a leader.

Moving leaders beyond the limits of their rhetorical skills, and challenging one’s own estimation of their courage, can move them and their organizations forward. Doing so repeatedly and successfully helps one move into a role as a leader oneself.

Draft with conviction. Accept correction with grace. Savor success, and seek opportunities to help your leaders to lead—and to lead through your words.