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About This Book

This book does three things:

  1. It translates core Warfighting principles into guidelines for effective leadership communication. These provide an important conceptual framework, and the individual principles serve as guideposts along the journey we will take. But they’re merely the starting point.
  2. It applies best practices in leadership communication drawn from my 33 years of advising and coaching leaders, and from my 24 years of teaching management and communication in graduate programs in a number of universities. This is the meat of the book—the big takeaway. It could easily exist without the Warfighting principles, but I have found in my teaching and coaching that the combination is more powerful than either standing alone.
  3. It makes extensive use of case studies and examples, of both effective and ineffective communication by leaders in high-stakes situations.

All three of these strands run through the entire book. Each chapter emphasizes the leadership disciplines particular to that chapter’s topic, and closes with two recap sections: The first is the gathering of all the Warfighting principles discussed in that chapter. The second is Lessons for Leaders and Communicators, the chapter’s key takeaways.

Organizationally, the book is divided into three parts, focused on principles, strategy, and skills.

Part I: “Leadership and Communication: Connecting with Audiences.” This takes up about half the book, and is divided into five chapters. The entire part focuses on the foundational principles of effective communication, all of which are grounded in connecting with and influencing audiences.

Chapter 1, “Words Matter,” establishes the need to take language seriously as a leadership discipline. It covers the need to adapt language as circumstances change and as audiences, adversaries, and critics react to what a leader is saying and doing. It also focuses on the need to listen and to engage for a purpose: to change the way people think and feel, and what they know and do.

Chapter 2, “Taking Audiences Seriously,” is a deep dive into understanding audiences. The leadership discipline here is to think of audiences as living, breathing entities with their own ideas, goals, plans, and desires even to be in relationship with the leader. The key is to recognize that audiences don’t think as leaders do, care about what leaders care about, or understand what leaders understand. If we are to move people, we need to meet them where they are, but that means knowing where they are and knowing how to move them.

Chapter 3, “Words Aren’t Enough,” focuses on how tempting it can be to say all the right things in high-stakes situations. But saying the right thing without delivering on the expectations that communication sets is a recipe for disaster: for loss of trust, loyalty, confidence, and ultimately of competitive position. Trust arises when expectations are met, and the leadership discipline is to align what a leader says with what the leader does.

Chapter 4, “Speed, Focus, and the First Mover Advantage,” covers shaping the communication agenda by being the first to define one’s situation, motives, and actions. The leadership discipline is to say and do what is necessary to move audiences before critics, adversaries, the media, or social media have a chance to, and then to ensure that all communications, from all sources, are consistent and mutually reinforcing.

Chapter 5, “Initiative, Maneuver, and Disproportionality,” focuses on ways to control the communication agenda, and on outsized risk and reward: how relatively minor changes or events can have a significant effect on the outcome. The leadership discipline is to be both disciplined and nimble, to avoid making small mistakes that cause great harm, and engage stakeholders in such a timely and effective way that we get a higher return on our communication investment than we otherwise would.

Part II: “Strategy and Communication: Planning and Execution.” This section has only one chapter, but it’s a long one. This part focuses on the need to be intentional, coordinated, and sequenced in planning and implementing communication, especially in high-stakes situations.

Chapter 6, “Goals, Strategies, and Tactics: Preparing and Planning,” focuses on the need to think carefully before communicating. It shows how easy it is for leaders to get tied up in the tactics of saying things, rather than being thoughtful about how to win hearts and minds. It also notes that preparing to communicate is often a leading indicator that there are gaps in a leader’s thinking. If a leader isn’t attentive to those gaps, you can be sure that stakeholders, critics, and adversaries will be. The leadership discipline is to have a clear intent and to organize thinking, decision making, communication planning, and communication implementation in the service of that intent.

Part III: “Building Skills: Getting Good at Communicating Well.” This section focuses on the core skills that leaders need to become effective communicators. While not intended as a comprehensive how-to, it focuses on three areas that I have found leaders of all stripes and of all levels of ability need to master: how they carry themselves; how they manage meaning; and how the human brain works. Leaders need mastery of all three to be able to move people and to avoid self-inflicted harm.

Chapter 7, “Performance: The Physicality of Audience Engagement,” begins by establishing the leadership discipline of taking seriously the need for continuous honing of communication skills. Even leaders who are good communicators need periodic tuneups or they will be less effective than they could be. The chapter then covers the basic interpersonal and group presentation skills that convey confidence and that engage audiences well.

Chapter 8, “Content: Word Choice, Framing, and Meaning,” covers how leaders can shape the frame of reference so that audiences understand what the leader wants them to. The leadership discipline is to take seriously the way that words trigger worldviews, and to understand how framing needs to precede facts. All too often, leaders believe that facts and data are convincing. The chapter explores how facts are convincing only if they make sense within a frame of reference. And there’s a first mover advantage: Whoever frames the topic first tends to win.

Chapter 9, “Audiences: Attention, Retention, and How Hearts and Minds Work,” is a deep dive into the human brain and what it means for leaders. The leadership discipline is to appreciate that audiences are human and that human nature—literally the way the human brain works—determines what audiences are capable of. The chapter is an overview of current understanding from the fields of neurophysiology, cognitive psychology, and evolutionary biology to provide insights on how leaders can actually connect with audiences and win hearts and minds.

  • The book closes with two summaries:

Chapter 10, “Putting It All Together: Becoming a Habitually Strategic Communicator,” harvests best practices from the previous chapters and organizes them into Nine Principles of Effective Leadership Communication. These can provide a quick reference point for monitoring your own communication leadership skills.

The appendix gathers all the Warfighting Principles embedded in the chapters and provides them in a single place, for easy reference.

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