All hail the communicators: Want to inspire staff, colleagues and customers? Adopt the rhetoric of Churchill, Nelson and Russell Crowe’s Gladiator

All hail the communicators

Want to inspire staff, colleagues and customers? Adopt the rhetoric of Churchill, Nelson and Russell Crowe’s Gladiator.

By Michael Hayman

1:16PM GMT 04 Nov 2013

“On my command unleash hell.” And with that cry Russell Crowe launches the might of Rome onto the ill-fated barbarians. The glory of Gladiator. The epitome of the leader. Not just brave but a communicator with the ability to rally the troops, to push the mere mortal to superhuman feats of endeavor. Throughout history we have celebrated leaders with that unique command of language, those with the ability to inspire. Shakespeare’s Henry V at Agincourt: “Once more unto the breach dear friends.” Nelson at Trafalgar: “England expects every man to do his duty.” Churchill on El Alamein: “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Wonderful words, dexterously delivered. Surely in this age of instant communication we would continue to champion the role of the orator? Not by any means as it happens.I am constantly amazed by how many senior business people seem to want to discount the importance of communication and its critical effect on leaders and the organisations they head up. There is often a near antagonism about the expectation that a talent for brilliant communication is now just part of the everyday job spec expected of a CEO or founder.

Look at how, at last week’s select committee hearing on the energy market, just one of the Big Six CEOs fronted up on behalf of their business. Part of it is that exceptional communicators are by their very nature exceptional.

They are able to use a skill that very few others have. Consider this fact. As many as 75pc of people have glossophobia, the technical term given to a severe fear of public speaking.

Part of it is a profound cultural mistrust of slick speakers; new age snake oil salesmen with superfluous skills. It’s most often personified in the modern mind by politicians but is increasingly an issue for our business leaders.

Part of it is a sense that these skills somehow provide an unfair advantage over those whose work should speak for itself. The reflection here is that the communicator by contrast lacks depth and substance.

Often, the point will be made that a great many leading figures have struggled in the limelight, or positively avoided it. That is held as adequate reason to negate its importance. The name I have heard most often cited in this regard is Sir Richard Branson, who will be highlighted as a business genius if not the greatest speaker.

But Sir Richard is one of the very greatest communicators. His skill has been to recognise his particular strength and then to master it. He understands the art of visual communication – and who can doubt his success in presenting the most iconic of images to the world?

There is nothing fickle about the ability to communicate. Far from it, it’s part of the territory. Leaders are expected to use words to defend and advance with all of the vigor and skill of the military leader.

The battlefield is replete with victims who got it wrong. Take Tony Hayward of BP or Nick Buckles of G4S, both of whom spectacularly failed to make their case in the court of public opinion and paid the price. Take Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’s replacement at Apple. Where is the pioneering voice that characterised his predecessor, the message to change the world?

Make no mistake, communication matters. Difficult to value it might well be but it is one of a range of intangible factors that dertermine the worth of businesses today. Its effects are ubiquitous. It is everywhere.

Data posted in July by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants states that, “the physical and financial accountable assets reflected on an average company’s balance sheet today comprises no more than 20pc of its true value.”

That means that 80pc of the value of firms is caught up in intangible assets like reputation, culture and communication. The actions of many companies and sectors back this up. Researchers estimate that from 2008 the US pharmaceutical industry began spending almost twice as much on promotion as it does on research and development.

A major part of this is due to advances in technology, which have supercharged the importance of two key factors: transparency and connectivity. Transparency means that there is an ever-greater need to explain because customers know more, want to find out more, and can. Connectivity means that customers behave in an ever more tribal manner. If you are not part of the conversation you are not part of the sale.

Entrepreneurs, for the most part, innately understand the need to get the message home. For one thing they are often quite literally the name above the door. In turn, when competing with larger competitors the ability to turn up the volume is an important part of the sales strategy.

Many may believe that the critical connection between communication and leadership is a modern affair. It is not. Narrative and the ability to communicate has always mattered because we learn and remember through the medium of stories.

For, in the words of Gladiator, “What we do in life echoes in eternity”, and that is all about communication.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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