Kevin Murray is Chairman of the Public Relations Division of Chime Communications, a London-based international marketing services company. Chime’s PR Division is ranked number one in both the PR Week and Marketing magazine public relations league tables for the UK. He started his career as a Crime Reporter on The Star Newspaper in Johannesburg, South Africa. He later moved in to public relations in the UK and was Director of Corporate Affairs for the UK Atomic Energy Authority before becoming Director of Communications at British Airways.
He moved to Bell Pottinger in 1998 and has considerable experience in managing complex and global communications projects and departments. He has led significant issues and crisis communications campaigns amidst the heat of international controversies in the chemicals, nuclear, aviation, and banking sectors, to name but a few. He also has years of experience coaching chairmen and chief executives on communication, and has drawn on that experience to add to the content derived from his interviews with the leaders in this book, The Language of Leaders: How Top CEO’s Communicate to Inspire, Influence and Achieve Results, published by Kogan Page (2012).
Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Before discussing The Language of Leaders, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
There is no doubt my wife of 35 years has been the most influential on my development. She has always shown me where I need to be a better man, a better friend, a better father or a better husband. She’s also been a great counsellor to me in my career and a huge support.
The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
I have been hugely privileged to advise leaders in all sorts of companies for the past three decades and to work closely with them in periods of incredible change and stress. Watching them perform, observing how they behave and how they lead, all of this has been very impactful on my development.
Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
A big turning point in my career was when I was fired from my job as Director of Communications for British Airways. I had spent two years there being required to be a messenger of often bad news, with no ability to influence change in the organisation. Prior to that, at the Atomic Energy Authority, I had been in charge of all change programmes and had become very used to being a change agent. The huge contrast between the two jobs was very influential in the way I have thought for the past 15 years.
To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
When I was at school I intended to go to university and study to become a veterinary surgeon. All my subjects were science-based. However, while serving in the army during my national service, I engineered a weekend aptitude test at a university in Johannesburg. The results were very clear. A career in journalism or public relations was required. This changed the way I saw the world, and I went into journalism at the age of 19. Ever since that day I have been having so much fun that I keep thinking somebody is going to find me out because it never feels like working.
Here’s a hypothetical question about interviewing. For present purposes, let’s say you are writing a book about history’s greatest leaders. If it were possible, which five (5) do you wish you could meet with and interview? Why? What specifically would you be most interested in learning from each?
If I were able to I would love to interview Julius Caesar, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Genghis Khan and Ronald Reagan. Each would have the most amazing stories to tell and I would want to explore with them issues like the power of a grand vision, the art of delegating in huge organisations, the ways they thought about communicating in order to win support, and how much they thought charm and humour was necessary in leadership.
Long ago, one of the founders of Hill & Knowlton, John Hill, observed that public relations is (or should be) “truth well-told.” Do you agree?
I couldn’t agree more. I hate that public relations is often dismissed as “spin”. Public relations activities are about persuasion, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In today’s transparent world not telling the truth is far too dangerous. You will, ultimately, be found out and the damage will be great. Public relations management is really what it says on the tin. It is about trying to manage your relationships with your various publics. Unless you have good relationships
All organizations need effective leaders at all levels and in all areas of operation. In your opinion, how best to develop them?
One of the things I kept hearing from all of the leaders I interviewed is that the only way you can build agile organisations today is to create more leaders everywhere. The difference between leadership and management is that leadership is about engaging with people’s emotions to inspire them to the cause. Management is about controlling behaviours to achieve results. Great leadership appeals to both the heart and the mind. In my opinion, the more leaders are taught these softer skills of relating to people, motivating them, recognising and uplifting them, the more successful they will be as leaders.
I am among those who think that crisis does not develop character in a leader, it reveals it. What do you think?
Having worked in the chemical industry, the nuclear industry, the airline industry, and many others I have had more than my fair share of crises, sometimes global in nature. I have seen leaders implode during a crisis and I have seen leaders respond amazingly in these situations. I do think those who are poor leaders are the ones who are most likely to fail in a crisis, because often the crisis has been caused by behaviours and decisions and poor leadership that preceded it. But it also true you can see the real strength of a leader when he or she has to stand up and be counted.
Most of the companies annually ranked among the most highly admired and best to work for are also ranked among those most profitable and having the greatest cap value. In my opinion, that is not a coincidence. What do you think?
I agree. All of my research has shown that happy and engaged employees usually deliver great results. I sometimes believe that the customer should come second, because you can never put them first if you haven’t encouraged and inspired your employees. Time and time again, I have seen examples of highly motivated employees giving effort that went beyond any contractual obligation, to achieve outstanding results for their companies. I firmly believe that this issue of engagement and inspiration makes the difference between ordinary results and great results.
I think that films very effectively dramatize important business lessons. That is why, when conducting workshops and seminars on leadership, I use brief clips from films such as Paths of Glory, Twelve o’clock High, Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Tunes of Glory. Which films would you consider if teaching a workshop or seminar on teamwork?
What a good idea. I think I would be looking at films like The Godfather, Groundhog Day, Seven Samurai (one of Ikira Kurasawa’s several masterpieces, on which The Magnificent Seven is based) and, yes, To Kill a Mockingbird. Each of these will have powerful lessons about leadership and teamwork. To be current I would throw in Avengers Assemble – a great story of a dysfunctional group learning to play to their strengths while working together.
In your opinion, what will be the single greatest challenge that business leaders will face during the next 3-5 years? Any advice?
I think one of the biggest challenges facing leaders in general today is that of sustainability. Time after time I heard the leaders I was speaking to talk about the idea that you cannot have a thriving business in bankrupt society. You have to have a healthy environment, a healthy society and only then can you have a healthy and thriving business. I believe that businessmen are going to have to get a lot more long term in their thinking about business and try to find ways to get away from the tyranny of quarterly reporting. This will take courage, it will take purposeful education of shareholders, but in truth there is no alternative. Already consumers are demanding more of the brands they buy from, and more ethical, responsible behaviours. This will be a movement that will gather pace and become unstoppable. Leaders must get ahead of that curve or else risk being turned into dinosaurs.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Kevin cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites: