Author interview: Kevin Murray

People with PurposeKevin Murray is the author of the best-selling books The Language of Leaders, and Communicate to Inspire, both of which were published by  Kogan Page and were finalists in the Chartered Management Institute’s Management Book of the Year Awards. He has been advising leaders and leadership teams for the past three decades. Kevin  He has interviewed more than 120 CEOs for his research, and commissioned ground breaking studies to understand what most inspires employees.

Kevin has 40 years of experience in communications, working as Director of Communications for British Airways, Director of Corporate Affairs for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) and leading the biggest communications group in the UK for more than 15 years. We had the opportunity to interview Kevin about his latest book, People with Purpose.

As you point out in your book, purpose-driven businesses are currently all the rage. How can one distinguish between authentic purpose and a passing fad where the business leader is simply keeping up with the times?

A purpose statement defines why you exist and most companies who have an authetic purpose retain that purpose for decades.  A purpose is constant.  Your vision, what you want to achieve might change but your reason for existing should remain constant.  All my research shows that companies who have an authetic purpose and are also effective and growing, always have a customer facing purpose.  Study after study show that companies with a customer facing purpose perform better.  A purpose statement should define a benefit you bring to customers to define vetar why you exist.

In your experience, how can leaders balance the realities of being the boss and humility? Is it possible to be too humble, to the point that you lose the respect of your team?

I have now interviewed more than a 120 CEOs and spoken with many 100s of senior leaders across a wide range of commerical entreprises, public sector companies and charities.  I do believe that the best leaders are humble and are more focused on their people than on themselves.  I always believe that great leaders ensure that their people can do the job effectively and they serve them and their interests better.  This is how they achieve their own goals by effectively enabling people to do all the work nessary to achieve high performance.  I don’t believe you can be humble to the point of losing your team – unless of course it is also humilty.  I always believe that the most charismatic people are those who are more interested in me than I am in them.

The premise of the book is that strong, purpose-driven businesses will be successful. But what if they are not? Where should those leaders look first?

A purpose driven business focuses not only on the reason they exist (purpose) but also the vision of success, strong values and strategic goals.

The intent is to give all the people in the business a sense of purpose – and this is derived from purpose, vision, values and goals not just a purpose statement.  A great purpose driven business is focused on performance as well as culture as well as a compelling reason for exisiting.  All the neuroscience shows that employees who buy into this will be high-performing.  It then all depends on whether the leader has a business with a market opportunity and a good plan.

We love the idea that purpose gives you courage. Can you share any examples where you’ve seen this in action?

I have seen the most mild mannered leaders gain the courage to stand up and argue for what they believe in in the most difficult of circumstances – but this was where their passion overcame their fear.  Most leaders need to better articulate that purpose and when they do, in combination of a string set of values, they become much more effective.

Many of our readers are entrepreneurs who, by their very nature are committed to their own personal development and self-improvement. But it’s hard for them to get honest feedback on their own performance. Have you any advice for how they should go about that?

The very best leaders always have at least one person in their team who they count on for robust and honest feedback.  They depend on getting that feedback in order to self-improve.  However, it is always best to try to find an external facilitator who can get feedback from your team who can then give robust commentary without fear of reprisal.  It is the leader who enables people to bring them bad news who is going to be most in touch with what’s going on in the business.  I always think that great leaders are bad news junkies, and it is these people who will always get the best quality feedback on their own performance.

Kevin Murray is a leadership consultant and author of three best-selling books on motivational leadership: The Language of Leaders, Communicate to Inspire and his latest book People with Purpose is published this month by Kogan Page, priced £19.99

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