Lessons in leadership communications from Fortune’s 50 Greatest Leaders

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Fortune recently released their list of 50 of the world’s greatest leaders of 2015. The list tapped leaders with a wide range of backgrounds, including CEOs, religious leaders, NBA players, talk show hosts, government officials, and even an 18-year-old activist.

So, if great leaders can come in all shapes and sizes, are there similarities in how they communicate?

Consulting Fortune’s criteria for this list, as well as research from Forbes and from leadership expert Simon Sinek, we found that leaders generally demonstrate the following themes:

  • Clear vision for the future and ability to move others to act
  • Desire to serve others
  • Effectiveness
  • Optimism
  • Courage to pioneer

Fortune created their list based on the actions of these leaders. This got us thinking: 1) Does the communication of these leaders also reflect these themes? 2) Are these leaders communicating these themes more effectively than the average speaker?

To find out, we used our communication analytics platform to measure speeches and interviews from the 2015 world leaders on Fortune’s list. We then compared the results to other speeches and interviews in our communications database containing more than 100,000 pieces of content.

  1. Communication alignment with leadership criteria: What are they saying?When compared to the average speaker, Fortune’s Greatest Leaders of 2015 display:Clear vision for the future: 27.5% more “progressive language,” signaling a focus on the future or the next big thing
    Desire to serve others: 23.4% more language related to the theme of serving others
    Effectiveness: 22.5% more language demonstrating expertise
  2. Communication effectiveness: How do they communicate these themes?When compared to the average speaker, Fortune’s Greatest Leaders of 2015 exhibit:Optimism: 36.6% more optimistic language
    Courage to pioneer: 15.1% more confident language

    • Courage to pioneer: 15.1% more confident language

Lessons in leadership communications

By using our communication analytics platform, we confirmed that Fortune’s 50 Greatest Leaders communicated consistently with key leadership themes. So what makes these leaders stand out from the pack? Our data suggests that while speaking about these themes, effective leaders use:

  • Optimistic language: An optimistic speaker displays positive emotion about the future.
  • Confident language: A confident speaker provides insight into their thoughts and opinions unapologetically. They speak with assurance, leaving no room for doubt.

While preparing for your next speech or media interview, look for ways to incorporate confident, optimistic language, and you’ll be that much closer to communicating like the world’s greatest leaders of 2015.

More on executive communication measurement from Quantified Communications.

Photography Credit: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf | Howard Schultz | Tim Cook | John Roberts Jr. | Ai-Jen Poo