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A Failure to Communicate

The chief reason that CEOs fail to achieve their aims is not lack of vision, lack of ambition, or even lack of desire. No, according to a Fortune magazine article, the chief reason leaders fail is lack of execution.[1] Three years later, Fortune explored why corporations fail. Of the ten reasons cited, four ("see no evil, dysfunctional board, fearing the boss, [and] dangerous culture") can be attributed to a failure of another sort - a failure of communications.[2]

Further affirmation of communications as a leadership attribute comes from presidential historian Robert Dallek. He describes five key factors of a successful presidency: "vision, pragmatism, consensus-building, charisma, and trustworthiness."[3 ] Four of these factors depend heavily upon an ability to communicate on multiple levels. Presidents, like all leaders, need to be able to describe where they are going (vision), persuade people to come along with them (consensus), connect on a personal level (charisma), and demonstrate credibility, i.e., do what they say they will do (trust). Even pragmatism depends on communications. Leaders need to describe the options facing an organization and make tough decisions about those options. It is then their responsibility to communicate the reasoning behind their decisions and the results of those decisions. So in a very real sense, leadership effectiveness, both for presidents and for anyone else in a position of authority, depends to a high degree upon good communication skills.

It is easy to take communications for granted. After all, anyone who has the ability to climb into a position of authority over others can communicate, right? Wrong. Communications is seemingly the easiest of leadership behaviors, but experience tells us that it is often the hardest to carry out consistently. How often do we hear about bosses who fail to set expectations, fail to listen to what people tell them, and in the end fail to achieve the results they were hired to achieve? Communications itself is not difficult. Verbal expression and listening to others are common human behaviors. The reason people find communications difficult is that it takes so much commitment. Often leaders are so busy doing all the other important things related to managing systems and people that they simply run out of time and thus do not communicate effectively. And that's the reason so many leaders fail at communications. Communications requires discipline, thought, perseverance, and the willingness to do it again and again every day.

Effective leadership, both personal and corporate, is effective communications. Leaders and employees need to be in synch throughout the decision-making and implementation process. Leaders and employees need to understand one another. Leaders and employees also need to be able to exchange ideas in an open and honest way. These things can occur only when facilitated by communications from leadership.

Just as there is no single way to lead, there is no single way to communicate - in fact, there are countless ways. What matters most is the willingness to do it, with a consistent message, a constancy of purpose, and a frequency of performance. In other words, leaders communicate all the time and do it willingly in order to convey their goals, gain support for those goals, and demonstrate concern for all who follow them.

Many Leaders, Many Styles

Examples of leadership communication form the context and heritage of our culture, past and present. These include:

What all these leaders have in common is a commitment to a cause larger than themselves. Each of them is using communications to further the leadership message through words and deeds. Each understands that leadership communications binds leader to followers in a partnership that is founded in mutual benefit and cemented by trust.

Leaders need to do more than just stand up and speak. They need to integrate communications into everything they do as leaders so that their communications, both oral and written, emerge from who they are as leaders and within the appropriate cultural context. Leaders who fail in communications will fail to achieve their organizational aims.

This guide shows how to develop and deliver the leadership message: how to develop it for organizationwide communications, create strong e-communications, and connect with the winning presentation. It contains three sections:

Intercut are real-life examples of how leaders have used communications to amplify their leadership. Written in the style of vignettes, these stories, gleaned from history, business, and sports, illustrate key principles of leadership communication. Each story concludes with a dot-point summary of the leadership message.

[1]Ram Charan and Geoffrey Colvin, "Why CEOs Fail," Fortune, June 21, 1999.

[2]Ram Charan and Jerry Useem, "Why Companies Fail," Fortune, May 27, 2002.

[3 ]Robert Dallek, Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents, p. xx.


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