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.