Parts I, II, and III demonstrate how to develop, deliver, and sustain the leadership message through words and actions. This section adds some ideas for implementation: as a leader, as a speaker, and as a communications planner. It includes
Summary Notes - the basics of leadership communications
Action Steps - what you can do to develop leadership communications
Leadership Communications Action Planner - an implementation plan for putting leadership communications into the workplace
In the modern world of business it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create. Management cannot be expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a good salesman.
Louis E. Boone Quotable Business, p. 156 [David Ogilvy].
Leadership communications are those messages from a leader that are rooted in the values and culture of an organization and are of significant importance to key stakeholders, e.g., employees, customers, strategic partners, shareholders, and the media. These messages affect the vision, mission, and transformation of an organization. The chief purpose of a leadership message is to build trust between the leader and his or her constituency. Some traits of leadership communications are as follows:
Values. These messages reflect the organization's vision, mission, and culture.
Consistency. These messages continually exemplify the organization's stated values and behaviors.
Cadence. These messages occur with regularity and frequency.
Leadership messages involve specific challenges; very often, they are tactical in nature. The messages may be designed to do one or more of the following:
Affirm the organizational vision.
Drive transformational initiatives, e.g., change.
Issue a call to action.
Reinforce organizational capability.
Create an environment in which motivation can occur.
Promote a product or service (and affirm its link to the organization's vision, mission, and values).
Set clear, credible targets. Tell your people where you want to take the organization, whether it be a project team or an entire company. Be specific. Do not overpromise or underpromise. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, uses his vision statements to keep people thinking about the future as well as keeping them focused on new products.
Gain commitment from key stakeholders. Engage the hearts and minds of your people. Excite them with the possibilities, and then ask for their commitment. Get your people to commit to what they will do and when and how they will do it. Lieutenant General Peter Pace of the U.S. Marines once reported to six different people. Pace strove to keep all his superiors fully informed. When disagreements arose, Pace spoke his mind, but he never went behind any of his superiors' backs. He did not always get the commitments he would have liked, but he felt that his transparent communications style served him, his superiors, and the 92,000 Marines under his command well enough.1
Coach, coach, coach. So much of leadership is about accomplishing results through others. People can succeed only if they have the tools and resources they need - as well as your personal involvement. And always provide plenty of feedback. Many senior leaders make it a habit to coach their direct reports regularly, giving both praise and advice on improvement, rather than waiting until the annual performance review.
Be out front. As the project or the enterprise moves forward, or even backward, make certain that you are front and center, helping to steer. See and be seen - as well as heard. In the wake of two aircraft catastrophes in New York (one on 9/11 and the other in Queens six weeks later) Don Carty, CEO of American Airlines, made himself visible. Even though his company was under siege, he was out front, taking the heat and providing a strong leadership example. Eighteen months later, Carty was forced to resign after failing to tell the unions about the existence of an exclusive pension fund for senior managers that would be untouched in the event the airline had to declare bankruptcy.
Issue calls to action. Do you need to change direction in the face of unforeseen circumstances? Or do you need to spur the team along? Speak up and ask for people's support. Telling people what needs to be done and by whom is not micromanagement; it's leadership! Football coaches excel at this: Let's run our game plan, get our points, and go home with a victory - pure and simple.
Emphasize that communications is for everyone. It's not just leaders who need to communicate. Employees need to foster communications skills peer to peer as well as up and down the organizational ladder. If only leaders speak, the organization as a whole is silent. Teams, departments, and even entire organizations that emphasize communications seem to have a greater sense of purpose and unity. Why? Because people take the time to keep one another informed and thus know what's going on.
Live the message. Communications cannot succeed on the basis of words alone. It must be reinforced constantly with actions that, like the words, stem from the culture and values of the organization. Leaders who use words to support their actions and behaviors are those who activate, energize, excite, and enthuse their followers to achieve inspired results.
What is the mission of your organization? (How will you get there?)
What is the leadership communications goal of your organization? (How will communications support the vision and mission?)
What is the communications climate within your organization? (Are people receptive to messages from their leaders?) Using interviews, focus groups, and surveys, you must discover the following:
How well leaders communicate
How well followers understand what the leaders communicate
How employees perceive senior leadership and the organization as a whole
The organizational understanding of vision, mission, and values
What are your leadership communications strategies? (How will you use communications to support organizational aims?)
What are your leadership communications objectives? (What do you want people to know?)
Select and target your audiences appropriately. Looking at the following table, consider the audiences you will select for your next key leadership message.
Will everyone receive the same message?
Will you set up an advance briefing for key influencers?
How will you adjust the content?
What outcomes do you expect from each audience?
It is important to use all available channels to communicate key messages. Use this table to help you think of your key stakeholder.
Use the following questions to assess the impact of communication:
Which media channel aroused the most interest?
How did leadership communications change employees' perceptions of the significant issues?
What is the impact of your leadership communications plan? Measure results according to the following criteria:
When did they receive it?
How did they receive it (channel and medium)?
What did they think of it (reaction)?
What action did they take as a result of receiving the message?
What behavioral changes resulted from the message?
Once your leadership communications plan is complete, what benefits will it deliver?