Leadership is communication. Without communication, there’s no leadership. Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach Mark Laudi shares what it’ll take for every Asian business leader to be a confident media interview guest and a world-class presenter.
This article is brought to you by Hong Bao Media (HBM).
There's one skill that transcends functions, geographies, or organisational hierarchy. Whether you’re an individual contributor, people manager or business owner – communication is overwhelmingly the most in-demand skill. In Coursera’s Job Skills of 2022 report, which studied data drawn from 92mn learners across the world, ‘communication’ was the definitive number one fastest-growing skill, rising 46 ranks from the 2021 edition – the same report’s 2023 edition saw ‘storytelling’ jump 49 spots to take first place, showcasing how closely the two skills are intertwined.
However, as you’d agree, communication and storytelling don’t come to most of us naturally. “In other words, just because people are outgoing and talkative doesn’t mean they communicate effectively and inspire others to view them as leaders,” finds a 2022 University at Buffalo research of more than 630 people, where experts evaluated communication skills across six metrics, and the participants rated their peers on leadership. The researchers concluded: “While extroversion is a trait you’re born with, communication skills can be developed over time. Employees who learn to speak with confidence and clarity, and use appropriate nonverbal cues, will be more likely to be seen as leaders when working in teams.”
The importance of communication is brought further into the spotlight with the incoming wave of artificial intelligence, automation, and avatars in the metaverse. Repetitive technical jobs are being automated, employee learning modules are being generated over ChatGPT; however, human communication is the only skill that is gaining greater value to future-proof leaders in an era supplemented by technology.
Mark Laudi (pictured above), a veteran of traditional and new media with 25 years of experience, is someone who knows and believes in the transformative power of effective communication. You won’t be mistaken if you get a sense of familiarity meeting Laudi, as he has anchored and produced several regional network television business news programmes at CNBC Asia Pacific between 1999 and 2006, including the flagship show, Squawk Box.
Presently, when he is not coaching top executives in presence and media skills, he uses his expertise as an accomplished media mentor in the capacity of Managing Director of Hong Bao Media (HBM), which he founded, and which has since become a renowned media training provider in Singapore and Malaysia. Laudi has developed a unique structured media skills coaching programme which, powered by CliftonStrengths, adapts to the unique strengths of each individual participant.
But before we get into that, let’s take a step back as we catch up with Laudi for an exclusive interview, on the communication landscape in Asia, and what it’ll take for every Asian business leader to be a confident media interview guest and a world-class presenter.
Without communication, there’s no leadership
Across Southeast Asia, and particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, communication skills have not been at the forefront of people’s thinking, as we often don’t have cultures where people want to proactively communicate in a work setting.
Communication tends to be seen as something functional, something that we have to do, not that we really want to do it or see great benefits in doing so.
“But the fact is, leadership is communication. Without communication, there’s no leadership,” affirms Laudi. “Because of Singapore’s precarious nature of being a small island with no resources, except human resources, communicating isn’t just a personal ambition for people wanting to speak with greater confidence and clarity. It also isn’t just a commercial necessity to be communicating, but it is a national imperative.”
And that is why he believes we all have to be the best communicators in order to be the best leaders. The shift towards this mindset has been accelerated owing to the pandemic. “Before COVID, people were generally sceptical and reluctant to appear on television,” Laudi points out. However, things have now changed. "As a result of COVID, we’ve all had to switch to video calls. We’ve all gone online. In essence, we were previously reluctant to appear on television; now every time we are in a Teams call or a Zoom call we are
in essence on camera.”
As such, the needs for developing executive presence have certainly evolved. Leaders across functions are seeking out media training because they want to look their best in a live webcast, or a hybrid event that is both webcast and physically present – as opposed to being on TV which doesn’t come by frequently.
Pain points: Behind or in front of the camera
While the drivers for sharper business communication have evolved, the curriculum or means of coaching haven’t quite been able to keep pace. A lot of leaders are reluctant to receive training because they don’t like to present in public in the first place. “Even some very senior business leaders shun the limelight, and suffer a great deal of stage fright,” Laudi shares.
For those who do agree to undergo some form of coaching, they are taken out of their comfort zones by presentation coaches. What this means is, once the training is over, the leaders revert to their comfort zones. Laudi adds: “Many of the learnings are forgotten, and the return on investment is reduced.”
As such, there is a dearth in the market of scalable courses with personalised attention. “Every individual is different. Every individual presents differently. Yet most courses apply a one-size-fits-all curriculum which all participants are expected to adopt and practice without taking their individual personalities into account,” Laudi tells us. Clearly, training outcomes are going to be as varied as the personalities of the participants.
So how can leaders build up their confidence and skills to communicate?
Confidence is something everyone already has, given we all have our comfort zones. “The problem is likely to be that your view of this confidence is obscured, that somehow it’s tucked away underneath something else,” says Laudi. “As a coach, I can’t actually give confidence. All I can do is help you to discover the confidence in yourself.”
That sounds fairly idealistic, but Laudi affirms, it’s the truth. "If I had the ability to wave a magic wand and, abracadabra, all of a sudden you have confidence, I would. But that’s just not how it works.”
What about practice makes perfect? Laudi isn’t a fan of that, for the simple reason that it often means people practise ‘tactics’, without necessarily making those tactics their own. This way, we run the risk of perhaps developing some sort of ‘presentation persona’, where we have to pretend to be somebody else every time we go up on stage or in front of a webcam. Bottom line, it usually doesn’t last.
“If you want to really gain confidence, understand yourself. Self-awareness is the first point,” reveals Laudi. “Then accept yourself. Understand how you tick.”
That leads to self-regulation. Once you understand how you tick and you’re entirely fine with that, then you can start to self-regulate. Laudi explains: “Self-regulating means actively doing more of what you’re really good at and just fine-tuning some of the blindspots that come along with an over-exercise, where you’re doing too much of a good thing.” “That self-regulation then leads to self-mastery; that leads to self-confidence and ultimately that leads to self-actualisation.”
Tapping into each leader’s unique talents
With Laudi making the point on self-awareness, it’s good to note that often, the people who need media training the most are not the gregarious extroverts. You don’t need to teach a gregarious extrovert to bounce on stage with great energy, wow the crowd, make lots of eye contact with the audience, and bring across that energy. They’re already doing it!
Instead, the people who need help the most are least likely to bounce on stage with energy and wow the crowd with a razzle-dazzle presentation style.
As such, it is important, that for self-awareness and to develop a plan of action, any form of training needs to take into account the unique personality of the individual. This happens to be HBM’s speciality, with Laudi at the helm, undertaking the CliftonStrengths Assessment, which was first developed by American psychologist Dr Donald O. Clifton.
What the CliftonStrengths Assessment allows is a focus on how a particular individual is wired. What are their default thought processes? What are the comfort zones that they're in? And once that has been assessed, on four dimensions (namely, influencing talents, relationship talents, strategic thinking, and executing talents), the HBM team is able to adjust the media training curriculum to their frame of reference.
“Only then do we start to talk about how you might best apply yourself to the skills that I need you to exhibit on stage or on camera. Most often it isn’t about bouncing on stage with energy,” Laudi shares. “It isn’t even about in any way taking the participant out of their comfort zone. Actually, the reverse is true. I need people to stay in their comfort zone. Only then can they be comfortable on stage or on camera.”
This refreshing approach to building executive presence goes against the norms of the corporate world, where strengths are often rationalised, while weaknesses are spotlighted for improvement.
Laudi shares: “Obviously, that comfort zone needs to be honed or fine-tuned. That’s where we add skills and knowledge for how to appear on stage or on camera in a fined-tuned way, that still speaks to their personality, and builds on their personality, so that they can become the best version of the presenter they already are.”
Case study: A leader’s transformation from self-critical and deprecating to energised and empowered
With green screen studios in Singapore's Financial District and Kuala Lumpur's City Centre, Laudi recalls a time a couple of years ago when a civil servant came into the studio with the words, “I’m only here because my boss asked me to be.”
Now it turned out, looking at her CliftonStrengths assessment, she had a particular personality trait Gallup CliftonStrengths calls ‘Restorative™’. People with such a personality trait – or ‘Talent Theme’, as they are called – are exceptionally good at fixing things. They gravitate towards problems; they call out problems; they constantly notice when things are going off the rails, when there are shortcomings or faults or flaws. They are sometimes called perfectionists. It turned out that she was so good at fixing things, at seeing faults and flaws, that she saw not only the things around her as faulty and flawed, but herself.
Another one of the Talent Themes she had was ‘Command®’. People with this trait are exceptionally good at leading from the front. They naturally take charge, and obviously if they do that in an unmindful way, they can come across as a bit bossy.
And so it was with this particular participant. On the one hand, she was very self-critical and self-deprecating to the extent that she robbed herself of her own self-confidence; while on the other hand, she did have this ‘take charge’ attitude.
Overall, in a four-hour, half-day session, Laudi coached her to switch from a 'Restorative™' mindset into her ‘Command®’ mindset, and all of a sudden, the stage fright disappeared. She got on stage and she took charge. She led from the front. She came across with gumption and gusto.
Laudi shares: “As she came off the stage, I asked what happened to that self-critical voice inside her head and she said, ‘I was in ‘Command®’ mode, so I told it to shut up’.”
So here was someone in her early 40s, had been in her career for 20 years, and had always dragged around these feelings of being faulty and flawed when she was on stage. However, in the course of one half-day, she managed to find a new way of approaching presentations.
“So by that example, you can see how taking a structured coaching approach is so impactful, rather than the traditional media training approach which has a slide deck of dos and don’ts, and how in the structured approach, we really are able to help people who otherwise would never want to be on camera or on stage.”
Find out more
Hong Bao Media (HBM) is the communications consultancy of Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach and former CNBC anchor Mark Laudi, coaching senior business leaders in communication. Find out how you can benefit at the HBM website, read more about the media training sessions, or simply leave your details in this form to get a reply by the next business day.
Lead image / Hong Bao Media