Darryl Cooke, founder and executive chair of gunnercooke, urges business leaders to use all their powers of persuasion to unlock the full potential of their employees
It is all very well having wonderful mission statements and great objectives, but you won’t create the culture you need or inspire and motivate everyone in your business without a strong communication plan that you spearhead yourself. In order to go the extra mile and become ambassadors for your dreams, your employees need to believe in you, your vision and your ability to lead them to achieving it.
In his book Influence: The psychology of persuasion, Robert Cialdini refers to a simple experiment by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer. Its premise is that, when we ask people to do something for us, we are more likely to be successful when we give them a reason. Langer asked people queueing to use a photocopier: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copier first because I’m in a rush?” Of those asked, 94 per cent let her go ahead of them. But when she said: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copier?” only 60 per cent agreed.
Inspirational leaders persuade others to their thinking and their cause. They make people want to achieve more through hard work, innovation and co-operation. They make them proud to do what they do and feel that anything is possible. To achieve this, they communicate continuously and creatively. They do not avoid giving bad news. Instead, they help employees to face it with renewed optimism and a clear direction. They may not always do what other people want, but always they demonstrate that they have listened to their views.
If you accept that the command-and-control approach is outmoded and that goals are best achieved by treating employees as volunteers who need to be convinced by your logic and powers of persuasion, it’s easy to let them see the truth for themselves rather than information that has clearly been doctored for their eyes. Investor and entrepreneur Ray Dalio calls this “radical transparency”.
Crucially, inspiring leaders motivate at both a personal and an organisational level. They are also unafraid of showing vulnerability.
I recall a story about a chain of upmarket golf clubs that started supplying expensive cologne in the locker rooms. The cost of doing so gradually became prohibitive, as members got into the habit of taking bottles home with them. Each month the directors would debate ways to tackle the issue, from providing a cheaper brand to removing the perk altogether.
After a number of discussions, one enlightened director said: “I’ll talk to Joe.” Joe was the caretaker at one of the clubs. Joe’s simple suggestion – that he should remove the tops from the bottles before putting them out in the locker room – solved the problem.
The best leaders do not have all the answers, but they do know where to find them. The nature of communication is key. It’s about much more than imparting the right facts and figures. It is the framing of the business, the good you are doing, the culture you are creating and where you are heading.
It is your opportunity to lead.
Darryl Cooke is the founder and executive chair of law and professional services firm gunnercooke. This article is an edited extract from his book To Innovate or Not To Innovate? A blueprint for the law firm of the future (Globe Law and Business, 2019)