Headlines from my podcast chat with Chairman of Six Nations Rugby Ronan Dunne
I chatted to the former CEO of O2 and Verizon Consumer Group about charisma, curiosity, showing vulnerability and communicating in a crisis when your job is on the line.
Ronan Dunne, the Chairman of Six Nations Rugby and successful telco CEO, joined me as a guest on my Delete, Delete, Engage podcast recently.
These were the headlines from a fascinating conversation which provides a CEO’s guide to communicating, storytelling and engaging with more impact.
On whether charisma is a natural trait…..
Ronan’s take on charisma is that it’s an innate ability to “enrich words and give communications a depth and texture” so that messages land with people in a way that resonates; something that he feels comes naturally to him.
On his role as a ‘chief cheerleader and storyteller’.....
When speaking to employees in the atrium of the Slough HQ shortly after becoming CEO, Ronan set out his aspirations to be the ‘chief cheerleader and storyteller’ for the business.
The cheerleader reference reflects Ronan’s belief that leaders succeed when they have the right people around them and are prepared to give them the freedom and context to shine.
As for storytelling, he saw the opportunity to establish his leadership personality by telling the O2 story in a way that he hoped would resonate with everyone from the boardroom to the shopfloor.
On adapting is comms style for different audiences….
In one-to-one situations, Ronan likes to identify what drives and motivates people - whether they want to be emotionally engaged or whether they are more motivated by facts so that he can build that into his communications approach.
He shares that in every team he’s built, he’s done a personality analysis to understand the characteristics of the people around him.
When communicating to larger groups, he likes to create a frame with hooks that people can remember in their ‘watercooler’ conversations with colleagues the day after.
He sees communications as like a “jigsaw” that needs to have “frames and hooks” that allow people to piece things back together again without having to go through the notes.
On creating a blockbuster story with chapters of your own rather than being the witness to someone else’s achievements…..
When thinking about and communicating big company milestones, he sees them as like a series of chapters in a story. Very often, leaders will inherit a large number of chapters when they take on the role. The challenge he has for leaders is whether they want to be a witness to someone else’s chapters, or whether they want to write and share their own.
On managing crisis comms and surviving a grilling from Sky News’s Kay Burley….
Ronan recollects O2’s “catastrophic network failure” in 2012 where a third of O2 customers lost service for 19 hours and the media was calling for him to resign. During the network failure, he describes his job as being on the line and says he learned the importance of framing the narrative in an environment when you may not have all the answers. Ronan and his comms team identified the key questions that customers would want answers to as: What happened? Why did it happen? How do you make sure it never happens again? And what are you going to do to make it up to us? The questions rather than the answers became the thrust of the crisis narrative.
On the importance of transparency, authenticity and vulnerability….
He also describes the importance of vulnerability, transparency and authenticity in communications during a crisis. He argues that leaders who try too hard to present themselves as somebody else will quickly lose people’s confidence if a different side of their character shows when the pressure is on and the cracks start to show.
On overcoming his struggles when he first became O2’s CEO…..
On the subject of vulnerability, Ronan admits to “struggling” when he first became a CEO, but found his groove by trusting his skills, experience and instinct and showing up as himself, not a corporate version of himself.
More recently, he has identified six key traits of successful leaders and believes authenticity is one of those traits.
On letting us into “the CEO secret”…..
Ronan warns against the risk of being over-scripted when speaking at important events.
When planning speeches and communications, Ronan provides his team with the framework, bullets and the chapter headings he’d like to discuss. The team then builds those chapters out and then Ronan will then go back to it and inject his own personality and stories so that he owns the communications and, if he’s presenting, he can communicate naturally.
How observing others has informed his comms approach……
Ronan’s inspiration comes from all sorts of sources. He frequently describes himself as like a “15 year old curious kid” and “a student of everything” who likes to harvest information.
A former boss of Ronan’s advised him to use time in meetings where you don’t have to present to take the time to look around the table and observe the different communications styles of the presenters in the room and how others in the room respond to each style. It’s an opportunity to analyse different styles and their effectiveness. And also what resonates with the people in the room that you most need to influence.
On spotting and nurturing talent and shaping “the most diverse leadership team in telecoms in the world”....
Ronan says his CEO potential was spotted when he was CFO at O2, before he’d realised it himself and is grateful to his bosses for spotting and nurturing his talent. Spotting and sponsoring leadership talent is something he frequently tries to pay-on and did so most recently at Verizon Consumer Group.
On his new role of Chairman of Six Nations Rugby and great leaders and communicators in sport…
In the sports world, Ronan has been most impacted by Arsene Wenger, the former manager at Arsenal because of his insight and his voracious appetite for information.
On the importance of curiosity and how it can help leaders engage more effectively…
Ronan believes that curiosity is important because it shows that leaders are keen to listen and observe.
On honing his social media approach by having a pint with 20 Twitter influencers….
Ronan believes that leaders who stay inquisitive will continue to grow because they are willing to listen and learn from others.
A great example is the time he met for a drink with 20 Twitter influencers, shortly after setting up his corporate Twitter account, to discover what they wanted from a CEO. He shares that the ‘Tweet Up’ was organised by O2’s Comms Director, Nicola Green (now Chief Comms & Corporate Affairs Officer at Virgin Media O2) and the steer that Ronan received was that influencers wanted authenticity.
On his lockdown learnings that still apply in today’s hybrid workplace….
Ronan was running Verizon Consumer Group, the US telco with 100 million customers, when the pandemic hit and his team launched a live internal update that husbands, wives, partners, kids and customers could all dial into. He believes that ‘stepping out from behind the firewall’ is something businesses should do more consistently.