Life lessons we can learn from Bob Collymore

Dr Wilfred Marube

People Daily

Robert (Bob) William Collymore (May his soul rest in peace) lived his life to the full at a personal and corporate level.  Though I never met him in person, his tributes reflect on what he stood for and represented, rather than as CEO of Safaricom.

You do not have to meet good leaders in real life to know their character and what they stand for. Great leaders infuse, articulate and represent the brand. The company vision, character and personality is created from how they communicate and act. This is usually captured in public appearances and media interviews.

I have picked seven leadership communication lessons for corporate leaders from the life and experiences Bob Collymore.

Leaders understand and embody the vision and character of the company. They live and articulate it boldly, passionately and consistently. Every day conversations and anecdotes of personal and private lives shared by the leader help reflect the corporate culture of the organisation.

This connects them to ordinary people, either for inspiration or assurance.  When Bob shared anecdotes on his personal life, one could not help but feel and touch the innovation and darer devil spirt of his organization. Not once did he miss an opportunity to demonstrate that innovation was the backbone of his company. 

Authenticity is currently so rare in a world that has embraced everything fake. From news, to people and products. Authentic communication is a true signature of a good leader. This means there is no disconnect between messages, body language and actions.

Leaders have to stand for something and, clearly and convincingly speak about it. One never doubts where leaders stand on issues, especially social ones, even when they disagree. These may range from climate change, giving a voice and opportunity to marginalized groups, access to basic needs and quality lives among others. 

Being accessible to the media when things are going right, and more so when things are going wrong is another important aspect. Most of what people know about industry or top government officials is derived from how they are reported in the media. However, most leaders have a phobia for media which denies them an opportunity to tell their personal story. They let others define them. Most of the time this does more harm than good.

Media accessibility through interviews and other forms of engagement help great leaders expose their vision, character and successes to others. A few flaws even become accepted when explained well.

Topics that are traditionally considered controversial and against strong public opinion do not scare away good leaders from media engagement. They get in and try to steer the conversation towards the right direction. Leadership is about having the courage, confidence and sense of mind to step up and articulate the position of the organization.

Good leaders treat their staff well. They know that employees are the most important asset to an organisation.   Leaders break down the barriers and silos within the company. They encourage diagonal communication. Anyone can communicate with anyone on anything regardless of position and rank.

Leaders listen more and talk less. They understand the power of silence and make time to hear divergent views to improve on decision making. Listening makes others in lower positions open up to giving honest feedback, especially when they are certain their ideas will be reflected and acted upon.

Finally, leadership is about accepting the shortcomings of the organisation, and making a deliberate effort to focus communication on the areas that reveal the superior power of the organisation. This could be the quality of the product, excellent customer service and sustainability programmes for the society among others.

Leaders aren’t afraid to make mistakes, but also don’t shy away from accepting and rectifying them. There are some life lessons that can only be learnt from mistakes made and lessons learnt. Bob created legitimacy by sincerely weaving into our way of life.

He wasn’t a foreigner to his staff, shareholders and customers. He was one of us. His personal support for the development and growth of professional public relations in Kenya also sets him apart from many corporate titans. – The writer is the President of the Public Relations Society of Kenya.

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