Communicate Like a Leader — Author Interview with Dianna Booher

Published on
July 27, 2017
Karina Mikhli
"Keep it simple. What you're doing either works or it doesn't and if it doesn't, try something else--and ask for feedback. This applies to the service you're selling and to the people you're managing."
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Dianna Booher, author of Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done, is the CEO of Booher Research Institute and author of 47 business books. As someone who has coached many large organizations and its leaders on how to communicate more strategically and how to expand their influence and executive presence, she writes from personal experience on what works and what doesn’t.

In this book, Booher discusses all the types of communication a leader needs to deal with. From hiring and firing, to daily communication and inspiration, to maintaining a network and being able to present and influence. So whether you are a leader now or aspire to be one, this book will give you the tools you need to communicate like a leader and gain the respect and influence that comes along with this.

What made you decide to write Communicate Like a Leader and why now?

An email from a client was blasted to a large group of consultants with this basic appeal: “We have more and more mid-level managers who need to learn to think and communicate at a higher level. What resources are available to help them?” The group of more than 1,000 could not identify more than a couple of books.

Additionally, in my own consulting and coaching practice, executive teams frequently send junior vice presidents for coaching for the same reason: They need help to think more strategically—to learn to communicate with all audiences up and down the chain of command, both inside and outside the organization.

Was writing this book different than writing your previous ones? Has the writing process gotten easier from book to book? And given your role, how have you found the time to write 47 books?

Writing this book was different in that it is much broader in scope. Yet, it’s much more specific on each topic or skill. Let me explain. In choosing my topics, I asked myself “What are the few most important skills a leader must master to be successful. Then within those few areas, what are the essential (strategic) things they must know for long-term success. I came up with six critical skill areas (developing their people, conversing to build relationships, speaking, writing, networking, leading meetings) and 36 strategic challenges in these areas.

Yes, the book-writing process has grown easier. I find the time to write because I’m passionate about writing. My writing is my play. Because that’s my area of specialty, I work quickly. Of course, research is another matter altogether. Research may take years. Much of what I write is based on my projects with client organizations. But actually writing a book doesn’t take all that long—3 to 4 weeks.

I enjoyed your distinction between managers and leaders but in a later chapter, you have a similar distinction between demoralizing and energizing managers. Is an energizing manager the same as a leader? If not, why not? And do you think one can be both a good manager and leader at the same time?

I don’t think an “energizing manager” contributes in the same way as a strategic leader. To me, “energizing managers” maintain the status quo with exuberance. That is, they have the ability to encourage their staff, praise them, offer empathy when necessary and keep morale high. But strategic leaders think long term. Instead of “maintaining,” they increase value of what’s entrusted to them. That may mean they develop the skills of their team, improve processes, or innovate with new products or services. Overall, their contribution increases the value of their department or division.

As someone who tries to respond to emails the same day I get them, I appreciated your chapter about timely response being the newest metric of quality communication. Do you think this applies to all industries and to staff at all levels? Can executives get away with ignoring this rule since they’re expected to be busier?

I don’t like to say never or always. So I’ll just say that it applies to all the industries I’m familiar with—and that’s a very large number. In my experience, the higher the executive, the faster the response. They’ve had to master time management to get to their position.

Since we have so many options on how to communicate these days (e.g., email, phone call, text, meetings, or just dropping by), how do you decide which method is most appropriate and effective at any given moment?

The criteria for deciding on the best format is four-fold: content, use, speed, audience.

How formal is the content/topic? About an upcoming retirement luncheon? Almost any medium will work. But if you’re discussing clauses to include in a 3-year contract for a land purchase, then probably a formal email or letter.

How will the information be used? Is the message something that has no lasting value? Will the recipient read or listen to the message, walk away, and never again need the information? If so, then a text is fine. But if the information will likely be needed for later reference, instruction, explanation to someone else, documentation for legal reasons, then a phone call or personal visit will not work as well as an email.

How fast do you need to get the information out? Or how fast do you need a response? Speed and convenience may be the critical deciding factor: Waiting for a face-to-face meeting may take days or months. A text may mean a response in 5 seconds.

What is the preferred medium for your audience? I’m keynoting this week for a group of employees inside the federal government. My contact has told me they are still struggling with using technology for their communication. So obviously I’ll not select push-text messages for their responses to me. If you have clients that dislike phone calls, you may be dealing exclusively with email. And if you don’t write well, that will be a roadblock.

In any case, selecting the appropriate medium is important. Evaluate on the basis of content/topic, use, speed, and audience preferences.

Of all the tips you provided, what one change is the most actionable and impactful in making us communicate like a leader?

By far, learning to speak clearly, concisely, confidently. No matter how well you do your job, if you can’t articulate what you’re doing, few people become aware of your contribution. As a good speaker, you become more visible. Your visibility attracts opportunities. Opportunities lead to more learning, growth, and mastery. The stronger your mastery of concepts and issues, the greater leader you become.