Originally published on August 31, 2016
This is the seventh part of a multi-part Blog on Executive Leadership
Engage your employees in dialogue and let the purpose arise from the relationship you have with them, the relationship they have with each other, and the relationship they have with your customers and suppliers. – Bret L. Simmons
Perhaps the most important tool that a leader has is communication. In fact, this is the key pipeline for all information, encouragement, change, and all other events that may be associated with the goals of an organization designed to achieve the vision. Before people will work to their full potential, they must first understand the objectives, goals, and vision toward which their work contributes. People will not commit blindly to something—nor should they be expected to. Therefore, the effectiveness of how the organization’s vision is projected—when how, and to whom—is essential to bridging the transition from identifying a vision to implementing actions by which to accomplish it.
The importance of effectively communicating the vision—and the plan by which to attain it—is to understand the scope of to whom it is important. One might find it intuitive that the people within the organization should find it important, but equally important is ensuring your vision and goals are effectively communicated to others who may be affected by your actions. These external stakeholders include clients, customers, investors, and in the scope of public sector organizations taxpayers, legislators, and administrators.
Communication is not only distributing information but also should include facilitating an understanding on the part of the recipients. Much like many processes you will undertake, the communication process also requires planning to ensure it is clear, concise, unambiguous, and understandable. Six areas by which effective communication may be guided include:
Knowing your purpose
Examining your character
Identifying your audience
Knowing your Purpose. First, you must understand why you are communicating. Some reasons include educating, inspiring, and persuading. Even if the communication seems routine, it is essential to provide forethought prior to transmitting your message. An effective way to approach this guideline is to write down the critical points of your message so that you do not inadvertently omit any important areas. This is not the time to adlib…
Examining your Character. How do you present yourself as a leader? Long gone are the days of “do as I say, not as I do” leadership—unless you want to reduce effectiveness, profit, cooperation, workplace harmony, etc. In fact, how you present yourself has a direct effect on how your message is received by others. Are you setting an example as a leader through your actions? Yes, actions do speak louder than words, but prefacing your words with a visible and understood mantra of being a leader who “walks the walk” opens up the attitudes of those to whom you are presenting the message, making it more likely to be well-received. Two points for pondering:
What attitudes do want to display to your stakeholders (both internal and external)?
How do you want others to perceive you as a leader?
Identifying your Audience. Once you have settled on your main topic points and how you want to present yourself. The next step is ensuring that the message is being transmitted to the right audience. Different audiences respond to communications differently—one would not expect the same response from doctors and nurses as they would from administrative assistants. Identifying the audience allows you to know what is important to them, their likes and dislikes (in a business sense), and what potentially motivates them. Knowing who is receiving the message allows you to adapt the message so it neither seems “below them” nor condescending, depending on recipients. Remember, especially with external stakeholders, that colloquialisms, jargon, and acronyms may not be understood—or even worse, may be understood to mean something different than intended. In an audience of mixed professional levels, you may need to amplify the basic message with information that is understandable to each segment of your audience—an easier task in written communication than in speaking.
Providing Information. In most instances, you—as a senior, strategic leader—will have and need more information than most of your subordinates. To you, the additional information is important to form the strategic picture—to subordinates, however, it may serve to confuse the message by hiding the signal you want them to receive in the noise that extraneous information introduces. According to Nate Silver (2012), many promising opportunities fail because the signal that may lead to success is muffled by the noise of extraneous information and misunderstanding.
Giving information means far more than just providing facts, tasks, and timelines. To engage fully your audience, you need to tell the story so that recipients of the message may understand context and background—in other words, the why component. To get people to be inspired and follow you, it is essential to communicate your message in such a way that it sticks in their minds as being important.
Expressing Enthusiasm. Do you believe in your message? Moreover, do your people see that you believe in your message? You may have heard it said before that “perception is 9/10 or reality” or some derivation thereof. Unfortunately, it is founded in reality—every person has their own reality, their own life experiences, their own aspirations…and, therefore, their own perceptions based on those contexts. You may have heard the expression “it has to be important to you before it is important to me.” As a leader, you must present the image that you are enthusiastic about your message and that you are committed to it. Only then will your people consider it important enough to also make the commitment.
Encouraging Feedback. How do you like one-way discussions? They were not particularly enjoyable when you were growing up, and they have not become any more enjoyable now. Do you remember earlier that the word engagement was used? That is because reaching people is not enough—you must engage them in order to be able to gain support for the vision, the message, the plan. People appreciate knowing that you care about their input—even those who are skeptical appreciate the veneer. More importantly, without this two-way feedback loop, you may miss important inputs that can refine and improve processes. If you are dealing with external stakeholders—customers, clients, partners—paying attention to their input is especially important, as it may have a direct (and sometimes very public—you’ve heard of the VA, right?) impact on your organization.
Next week will be Part eight of the series: Inspiring Confidence
Silver, N. (2012). The signal and the noise. New York, NY: Penguin Group USA.