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Leaders today need to learn the Art of Persuasion


Sangbreeta Moitra is a motivational speaker based in The Netherlands, specialising in leadership communication, corporate storytelling and public speaking. With her background in global management in the pharma industry, she has unique insights on today’s dynamic leadership needs. Lakshmipriya Nair caught up with her at a conference in Mumbai to understand more about the secrets of leadership communication

What are the three common communication mistakes made by leaders? How can they be avoided?

Sangbreeta Moitra

There is no formula for leadership. Everyone, including you and me, has a distinct leadership style that is influenced heavily by our experiences, our personality and how they shape us.

However, working with corporates across different industries on inspirational leadership communication, I noticed some elements that needed reinforcing, despite the difference in the industry, cultural background or experience. Here are my top three:

  • Ignoring personal values. Working in a large corporate environment, it is very easy to lose yourself. When you walk through the doors of your company, immediately you’re a manager in a sea of managers with very similar skill-sets, working on very similar projects and with overlapping career graphs and aspirations. It becomes very difficult to retain your identity, your ‘uniqueness’ in such an ambience. Thus, it’s important to discover your own personal core values that drive and define you. It is these values that influence the kind of leader you will be, and the legacy you leave behind.
  • Authoritative vs Persuasive. The image of a leader has changed drastically through history. Look at the earliest leaders of civilisation: the kings. Kings were feared leaders back in the day. Ivan the Terrible. Vlad the Impaler. Attila the Hun. The leadership style then was straightforward and clear. One man. One decision. One outcome. And dare you not agree… off you go to the prison dungeons.

Fast forward to the 20th century, leaders had a more authoritative style of communication.  Sure, employees wouldn’t have their heads chopped off for disagreeing with decisions made by their leaders (well, not all), but their opinion and feedback wasn’t taken into account. “Deal with it” was the mantra in the workplace.

Today however, times have changed. Drastically. Authoritative leadership is unwelcome; it is considered unhealthy for the employees and the company to have an inflexible honcho forcing decisions without discussions.  Thus leaders today need to learn the art of persuasion. Instead of telling people what should be done, persuade them. Accept their questions and address them by showing the benefits and reasons behind the decision.  Persuasion is your friend; it will ensure that your team sees you as a trustable leader. A beautiful quote by Brian Tracy comes to mind. “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”

  • Harsh criticism. This is one of the biggest issues in people management. You will find promising and driven employees quitting their jobs due to harsh feedback by their superiors. As leaders, we need to be aware of the weight of our words, and just how much impact they carry. Venting our frustration in a negative and condescending manner might give you temporary emotional respite, but you risk losing the respect and loyalty of the team who should swear by you.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”

Thus, be mindful. Instead of telling your employees how bad their performance is, guide them how they can perform better. Inspire them to believe in themselves despite their current weak points. Whether reinforcing their strengths or discussing improvement, the end result should be the same; your employee is driven to reach new heights and be the best they can in their role.

Collaborative leadership is being touted as the way forward for many industries. What are the steps involved in building such leadership?

“What’s in it for me?” was the old favourite. We were individualistic in our approach to work and building relations with new vendors and clients. Today, however, the scene is different. If you want to create a win-win situation, ask “What can we do together?” This is not just a leadership style; it’s the new communication style for presentations, pitches and negotiations. How can we help each other grow, by collaborating through our strengths? Immediately, we transcend from an individualistic perspective to a common vision, one that doesn’t just benefit a party; but strengthens trust and loyalty in a professional relationship.

How can leaders create impact and inspiration when speaking to an audience?

Leadership communication is one of the most essential tools required today. You have the knowledge, the skills, and the legacy to share with your audience. But how can you create an impact? How can you convince them that your proposal, your idea and your vision is worth their time? Ever too often you’ll see senior leaders on stage at top conferences and events, droning on about numbers and statistics to a completely distracted audience. The last thing you want when you’re presenting crucial information is an audience playing Candy Crush on their phone.

I’ll go far enough to say that a presentation that falls on deaf ears is a failed presentation, if unable to hold the interest of your audience in yourself, your proposal and the organisation you represent.

In my inspirational leadership communication workshops, executives learn to step out of their comfort zone of hiding behind text and slides. Numbers and statistics don’t buy trust, you do. It’s essential to show ‘the individual behind the words’. It’s important to show your audience why you care, what’s driving you, and why you believe that it is important for your audience to know this information. By learning how to create inspiration and power in your content and style of delivery, even if they’re about numbers on a slide, you will create a strong bond with your audience that makes you memorable and respected as a leader.

To what extent do leaders shape organisational cultures and create a sense of belonging in individuals?

Humans are so tribal by nature. We love our sense of belonging; whether with family, partners, friends, even nationality, culture or religion. So what’s stopping us from feeling connected to our organisation? Where’s the sense of belonging, the sense of tribe there?

As a leader, especially in today’s world where technology is fast replacing people, and with countries still reeling from the after-effects of recession, there’s a lot of insecurity in the air. Employees are scared of the next re-organisation; they don’t know who to trust. In such a volatile situation, it is essential to reassure to your employees that they matter. A yearly appraisal and bonus is sufficient, but deep relationships aren’t born out of mere sufficiency. Whether it is investing in their personal development and growth, creating a social infrastructure for the employees to know each other better, or giving them the recognition and respect they deserve; bring back the tribal relationship that drives our personal life and decisions so deeply. After all, as Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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