If you only had a few minutes to share a message with people, what would it be? How would you make sure it stood out and was memorable? That’s a question that future leaders will need to ask themselves as they communicate with their employees amid their busy schedules and other obligations, especially as their organizations grow. It’s also part of the reason why communication is such a vital skill for future leaders.
As part of the research for my new book, The Future Leader, I interviewed more than 140 top CEOs across the globe. As I asked about the mindsets and skills leaders will need to be successful in the next decade and beyond, communication kept coming up. Listening and communication have always been vital to leaders, but they will become even more crucial in coming years as we become surrounded by more noise and competing messages. These are also two skills that changing dramatically. Leaders need to know how to communicate effectively and cut through the distractions to reach employees and customers.
One of those CEO’s is Tsuyoshi “Nick” Nagano, the former president and CEO of Tokio Marine (and current Chairman of the Board), a global insurance company headquartered in Tokyo. As Nick told me, “I firmly believe we are seeing a revolution in the sense that salary and personal advancement will no longer be such dominant factors in the companies people wish to work for. I see a shift in the next generation of people wanting to work for companies that are both successful as enterprises but also contributing to building a better society.” Leaders need to communicate this to everyone and anyone that interacts with the organization and this shift has been a consistent theme identified by the many CEOs I interviewed. The challenge is of course scaling this messaging. In Nick’s own words. “As a CEO I may spend 70% of my time communicating with the people in my company. This may seem like a lot, but when you consider that I manage a global workforce of 32,000, this can mean they only listen to me speak live or virtually for 20 minutes per year on average. Thus these 20 minutes really need to count, otherwise, where is my impact as CEO?”
That quote really puts into perspective the impact of communication and how leaders need to be able to share messages and build connections quickly and efficiently. Nick knows that communication plays a vital role in leadership, and every message needs to count.
140 of the world’s top CEOs identified a specific set of 9 skills & mindsets that are crucial for leaders to master. Learn what they are and hear directly from these leaders by downloading the PDF below.
Like many other CEOs I interviewed, Nick believes the key skills of communication and listening will always be important. The difference in the future, however, is that the channels and forums we use to communicate will be vastly different. That means leaders need to not only understand the options for various channels but also know the best way to spread their messages to reach their customers and employees. Many of those channels likely don’t currently exist, which means that in order to become a great communicator, future leaders will need to pay attention to trends and new technology.
But that technology will likely create new challenges for leaders. Nick says that technology and virtual collaboration will only increase the time demands on CEOs. Being able to talk to employees and teams around the world at any given moment provides amazing opportunities and can make it tempting for future leaders to work 22 hours a day. However, Nick warns that this approach isn’t sustainable or scalable. Prioritizing communication and making it as effective as possible will help leaders reach out to global teams with technology while still preserving balance and mental stamina.
When a leader prioritizes communication and sets the example for communication that matters, it spreads through the entire company. At Tokio Marine, the company is constantly thinking about the future and how to build a more efficient and collaborative organization. Under Nick’s leadership, the company is building an agile leadership pipeline that is proactive to change. One of the key hallmarks of that pipeline is leaders who can drive collaboration and communication. With communication a priority throughout the company, leaders at all levels follow suit to make their messages impactful and persuasive. Leaders may only get 20 minutes with their employees a year, or they may get 20 minutes a day, but each of those minutes should count and be valuable.
Future leaders need to take their communication skills to the next level and be able to adapt them for changing channels and audiences. As the pace of changes increases, leaders need to be able to prioritize communication to make every minute count. It only takes a few minutes to share a message and build a relationship, but those moments are crucial for tomorrow’s leaders.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from our discussion where I asked Nick how he defines leadership.
“Leadership is not something that is defined in the present. I think leadership should be defined by the fingerprints you left on the organization 5, 10, 50 years down the line. Did you leave good people, did you leave good values, did you leave a business ready for the next big shift? These aren’t questions for the present, to say you are a good leader now is just to say what a good job your predecessor did and you are executing. Leadership is where you are taking them on the journey but you can only see whether the route and team you chose is right with the benefit of hindsight.”
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