Leadership: The Test of a Communicator

Michael Liu | November 13, 2014

Are communicators leaders or messengers?

This is one of the questions that I had in mind as I attended the Community Leadership Series, an event that took place on November 6 – 7 in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

Michaelliu Blogpost Petermansbridge

Peter Mansbridge, news anchor for CBC's The National, addresses the audience at Festival Place Theatre, Sherwood Park, on November 6, 2014.

Featuring prominent thinkers in business, education, community development and sport, the two-day speaker series explored the question of leadership from multiple perspectives, keynote speakers included Olympic hockey champion Hayley Wickenheiser and CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge, amongst many others. With a stellar lineup, the presentations were as insightful and they were inspiring. 

After taking in the words of the speakers, I thought about what separates a great communicator from merely a competent one.


Don’t build reputation. Build character.

The hallmark of leadership is character. It is the foundation upon which reputation is built.

While it may be possible to develop a ‘public persona’ without developing character, the real test of leadership is to look beyond ‘personality image.’

Leaders see character because an image is fleeting. They see ‘what things are’ rather than ‘what they seem to be.’

You can think of character as a soundtrack that can never be turned off. It follows you wherever you go. It speaks louder than words. It is the sum of all your actions.

In this respect, communications leaders can do more than create “good PR” for corporate clients. They nurture what Stephen R. Covey termed “the character ethic.” They uphold a set of principles in themselves, and seek foster those in the workplace.

The importance of character to leadership cannot be overemphasized. It is the thing that lives on long after a leader passes.


Poor leaders inflict. Great leaders endure.

I once had the privilege of hearing David Rendall, author of The Freak Factor, at another conference. He identifies the propensity to endure pain as the hallmark of great leadership.

While poor leaders inflict suffering, great leaders endure it.

We have all worked under poor leadership. These are leaders who set one set of expectations for themselves, and another set for everyone else. They say one thing in public but switch gears in private.

But in this age of instant communication and digital media, there is more scrutiny than ever. The onus is on integrity.

To build trust, communications leaders must demonstrate the qualities that they are trying to communicate. They look within to craft key messages. They expect themselves to be the ambassadors of a brand, or a set of corporate values.

Unless you can master yourself, you won’t convince others.


Get used to pressure. It is a privilege to face it.

During Mansbridge’s presentation, he relayed his extensive interview experiences with the world’s most powerful leaders – the likes of Barack Obama, Pierre Trudeau, the Aga Khan and many others.

A common thread to great leadership is the leader’s ability (and willingness) to face pressure.

A great leader will tell you that it is a privilege to face pressure.

When people become leaders, they are signing up for the most difficult role in any given situation. They shoulder the heaviest responsibilities, scrutiny and turmoil. They do so because their performance affects the lives of countless others.

The very things that repel most people happen to compel leaders.

In the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”


Leadership and communication are based on sharing

Great leadership, like great communications, is reciprocal.

Leaders listen more than they speak and give more than they receive. They foster relationships based on mutual exchange and contribution.

If a relationship is to be successful – whether in business or in life – both parties must stand to gain from it. If only one side gains, it is not a relationship.

Similarly, communicators do more than disseminate information. They look for ways to share and engage stakeholders. Great communicators inform just as great leaders empower.

When things become “one way” only, we stop being leaders.



How do you demonstrate leadership in your professional and personal life? What can you do to make a more lasting difference? Let me know by commenting, sharing and contributing to this post.


Michael Liu is a graphic designer living and working in Edmonton, Alberta. His practice has given him a multidisciplinary perspective, leading him to venture into the field of public relations. He wears the hats of designer and communicator.

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