Helping leaders lead

In this day and age there can be few senior leaders who don’t think communication is a duty and an essential skill in their role. It’s a huge opportunity for the internal communication function, but what does it take to deliver for the boss?

It has been common thinking among communicators for some time that there are three main roles that we fulfil:

  • Expert producer (who knows how to make communications happen)
  • Business partner (who takes a defined business problem and develops communication solutions)
  • Strategic advisor (who helps senior leaders identify business opportunities – which may or may not be exclusively concerned with communication).

And most of us recognise that in any given day an internal communicator might be called upon to fulfil all three roles.

However, it is not always clear what it takes to be effective in the last role; many of us struggle to explain what it means to be a strategic advisor and understand what are the specific skills and resources we need in order to be a good strategic advisor.


Useful Resources

Luckily there are some brilliant books around.

I’m really enjoying a recent discovery: James Lukaszewski’s Why Should the boss listen to you?   Jim is a fellow member of the IABC’s Global Communications Certification Council where we’re working on global recognition for trusted advisors and his book came up in conversation.

For anyone hoping to be a counsel to leadership the book is packed full of useful advice centred around the idea that the boss’ problems are our problems.

And last year I fell in love with Richard Hytner’s Consiglieri – leading from the shadows. Hytner celebrates the world of the right-hand men and women, and offers a range of styles of advisors. “Lodestone” advisors are there to take on jobs that lighten the boss’s load, “Caddies” are expert advisors about what is coming and the tools needed or “Reasoners” who keep the boss grounded with clarity and sense-making.

Hytner suggests much more and his book is an excellent investment and a perfect gift which I have given to more than one client in the last year or so.


Putting theory into practice

It takes skill and experience to learn and perfect these roles; only time and exposure can turn promise into reality.

But we can start the journey towards strategic advisor by thinking what resources make us effective.

Workplace power or influence is often said to depend on things like status, the ability to reward or punish or, perhaps most usefully, on expertise and personality.

Most of the writing on providing leadership advice hint heavily that to be a solid counsellor there is a body of knowledge that we need to display.  We need to know what is going on – internally and externally, we need to know what people think and what the boss wants, we need to know what works and what doesn’t.

In short, being influential begins with owning our professionalism; being expert in the audiences, their behaviours, the attitudes and how to reach them.  I always argue we should never let anyone else think they know better than us when it comes to how communications work and what people are saying.

Secondly, the literature provides some clues about what sort of personality is needed.  Hytner is particularly helpful, but the essence of his and Lukaszewski’s messages are that it’s not about you; it’s about the needs of the boss and the wider organisation.

As Jim Lukaszewski says:

“The counselor’s prime objective is always to look at the questions, issues, opportunities and vulnerabilities from the boss’ perspective first, and to test all advice against the leader’s perspective.  This approach leads to better, more usable advice, more quickly”

His message is that we should always strive to offer advice which is:

  • Practical
  • Pragmatic
  • Purposeful
  • Focused
  • Fair



Perhaps a first step is to take a personal inventory of the resources you have available to you.  Most of all, ensure that you have the basics right; good data and sound understanding of the tools of communications.

Then, the consensus seems to be that increased access will come when you deliver on your personal value as an advisor; values which are likely to include trustworthiness, reliability and thinking through problems from the point of view of the boardroom.