Today’s corporate leaders must be able to engage their people and have productive dialogue. This is an important skill because leaders must communicate their visions and business objectives in a way that informs and motivates action. They need their people to drive their objectives. Many bodies of research show that effective communication is critical to leadership. Yet in a recent study by Ketchum, only 29% feel leaders communicate effectively. This gap between expectation and execution is important, and can be closed. Here are some basic guidelines for effective leadership communication in corporations or organizations.
Be transparent. People are bombarded with information today from a variety of sources. This means they have unlimited access to research, facts, and news. It’s crucially important that leaders are open and honest with their people. If they don’t hear the news from their leader, they’ll likely hear it from somewhere else. If the road ahead is going to be difficult, say it. If you are going to need to reduce staff, let people know. Hiding in a bunker will not make tough issues go away; they will only worsen over time. And if leaders aren’t transparent, they run the risk of losing trust with their people, which ultimately impacts morale and productivity.
Be clear. Use simple language that is easy-to-understand and can be translated to multiple languages. Leaders need people to be able to act on what they say. They need to understand and apply. So keep it short and simple.
Follow-through on what you promise. Do what you say you’re going to do. This one is simple … if you promise something, follow-through on it. If you say you’re going to make change, make it. If you ask for opinions on a survey, follow-up with your people and acknowledge the feedback. If you aren’t going to make a change that someone suggested, explain your rationale. If you do adopt something that people suggested, thank them for the feedback and give credit where it’s due. Always be gracious and thankful for feedback and honest about what’s do-able.
Create the right space and environment for dialogue. We have coached many leaders to have small conversations over coffee or a casual “brown bag” lunch. It’s important to create an environment where dialogue is possible – seated around a table where people can see and hear each other. If you are asking for feedback in a larger group setting, you can still accomplish a conversation. Sit on a stool on a stage, for example, or walk the room. And if you need to accomplish the dialogue virtually, allow ample time for technology pauses and for everyone to talk.
Tell stories to bring your points to life. People remember information better when it’s presented through stories. Weave storytelling into your speech or conversation and people are more likely to retain and repeat what they’ve heard. Personal stories show your investment in the topic, as well.
Lead by example. I worked for a great leader, who was working hard to drive some leadership behavior change at a large company. He told people to treat each other with respect, listen for understanding, and disagree agreeably. The best part, he behaved exactly as he expected others to behave. He led by example. So the behavior change was infectious, and it spread quickly throughout the organization. This is a powerful must-do for leaders to be effective and trusted.