Why Communications is a Hard Skill

Today, mastering communications is not simply a matter of adding another string to your bow. Communications has become a fundamental or hard skill for CEOs, executives and anyone with ambition. Without excellent communication, it is almost impossible to succeed professionally or personally in the 2020s.

What triggered this fundamental shift from soft to hard skill? In short, automation and artificial intelligence. They are revolutionising our lives and workplaces: everything that can be automated or digitalised will be over the course of the next few decades. This need not be a cause for despair; on the contrary, it is an opportunity to focus more on what humans do best.

Communications is one of the key differentiators between humans and machines. For the foreseeable future, computers will not be able to deliver inspiring speeches or provide the right words to show empathy in a crisis. And developments in technology have not reached the point where bots can apply the critical thinking necessary to build a great company culture. Therefore, it is crucial that we master the art of communications if we are going to stand out from bots, peers and competitors. With a comprehensive grasp of communications, you will rise to the challenge of leading an organisation into the future. As bestselling author and communications expert, Carmine Gallo writes: “become a great communicator by mastering the art and science of persuasion and you’ll thrive in the modern world.”

Why does this trend impact CEOs? There are three main reasons having emerged only recently.

Firstly, communications is increasingly driving the bottom line of businesses. Without a strong brand, a business is merely a commodity that competes on price. Eighty-five percent of members in the IPSOS Reputation Council agree that a company’s reputation affects financial results, and reputation depends, above all else, on the ability to effectively communicate your company’s value and purpose to customers, employees and shareholders. As the leading ambassador of the brand, the CEO now plays a major role in communicating the company’s value and purpose.

Secondly, we have recently witnessed the advent of the social CEO. Our understanding of the role of the CEO is undergoing a profound transformation. Individual voices are now being favoured over standard corporate communications, which, as a result, has catapulted the CEO to the centre of a company’s reputation. In the BRANDfog CEO, Social Media and Leadership Survey, 82% of respondents said they are much more likely to trust the brand when its leadership and CEO use social media. Customers are not the only ones who demand more visibility from the CEOs – employees want it too. In the New Times, New Leaders study by PR360, 89% of employees said that regular communication from the head of the company was good for morale and productivity, yet strikingly 44% of employees stated that their CEO is not visible to staff and discourages people from dropping into their office.

Thirdly, when CEOs and other C-level executives are forced out, it is now mostly because of reputational issues. In an eye-opening study Perception beats Performance by the management consultancy Roland Berger, it was revealed that in 71% of cases in which top managers left prematurely, the reason was reputational. In the 1990s, performance mattered most, reputation was secondary. Similarly, research by consultancy Weber Shandwick found that executives estimate that a staggering 44% of their company’s market value is attributable to the reputation of their CEO. For CEOs, managing their reputation has become life insurance.

The upshot: only by mastering the fundamentals of communications will CEOs be able to succeed in the 2020s. No entrepreneur or executive can afford to ignore reputation management, or even perform it half-heartedly. I make specific reference to the 2020s because although some aspects of communications are timeless, such as storytelling and public speaking, others have emerged only recently. The pressure for CEOs to communicate using digital tools, and to reckon with concepts such as digital thought-leadership and search engine optimisation are only recent developments. This book combines the immutable truisms of CEO communications with the latest digital trends and developments. My aim is to provide CEOs and executives with the most practical and up-to-date guide to reputation management and world-class communications available today.

The insights of this book, including the secrets and pitfalls sections, are based on 20 years of experience in the field of communications, both in international leadership roles and as founder and CEO of a communications consultancy. I draw on over a thousand media interviews given as spokesperson of a publicly-listed company, hundreds of conversations with leading communications professionals and CEOs, countless crises that I helped defuse, dozens of podcast interviews as co-host of How To Speak Like A CEO and one book of the same name. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book and find it useful.

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