Clear, honest, open and two-way interactive communication is the lifeblood of leadership.
As a leader, genuine communication is not so much about what you say as it is about the message you send. That message is a vital tool in any leader’s efforts to express their vision of the future, enlist others in the effort, provide updates about progress, maintain a consistent focus on the objective and empower others to participate in the achieving the objective. In short, effective communication is the way leaders give followers a reason to follow.
Many who seek to be leaders confuse disseminating information – sending memos, posting on a web site, having a meeting or blasting out an email – with effective communication. Would-be leaders do a lot of talking and telling, but they rarely actually communicate. Ineffectual leaders don’t convey the crucial information, the vision, the feeling of camaraderie that is so essential to active leadership. That’s because true communication is much more than simply imparting information.
The effective leader sees real communication as a process of interaction that sends a message of respect, inspiration and motivation as much as it imparts information. Posting a notice on the company web site may pass out information, but stopping by an employee’s desk or asking input from others is real communication. That’s what helps followers understand why something is being done, not just what is being done. That type of communication builds effective leadership. And there’s more.
Of all the traits of effective leadership, nothing reaches so pointedly into the hearts and minds of followers than the communication of respect. Yet, this vital attribute is probably the most overlooked and undervalued use of communication. In fact, better than money, more sought after than position, rank or perks is the follower’s desire to be recognized and respected for their contribution to the success of any objective.
That means that followers desperately (yes, desperately) want to know that the leader is fair and honest and that they will be recognized for the value they add. When denied respect, you can expect followers to do no more than go through the motions of following the leader, because they know that their ideas and efforts will mostly go unrecognized. Why should followers give the leader 100 percent support, when they are not respected by that leader?
One thing that strong leaders learn is that respect becomes mutual. When a leader demonstrates that they respect the followers even more than they expect to be respected there develops a win-win mutuality of respect. For the leader to offer and receive this reciprocal respect, communication must be open, constant and consistent. Communication for an effective leader is not a process or a procedure; it is a natural way of operating.
It’s Not Communication if it’s Not a Two-Way Street
Confident leaders understand that for communication to be effective it must cycle throughout the entire organization, not just down from the top, but from the bottom up as well. When a leader does not allow, or maybe even blocks the two-way free flow of communication, a negative dynamic emerges. For a leader to be successful it is just as important to know what others are thinking as it is for others to know what they are thinking.
Being open to suggestions, feedback and even criticisms from followers is threatening to some, because they might get frank and candid information they don’t want to hear. But that is just the type of communication strong leaders need and want. Even though the perceptions of the followers sometimes may not be valid, what is valid is that they have these perceptions and understanding this can help the leader be more effective.
Learning to Communicate as a Leader
In order for communication to pay the dividends it promises, it must come straight from the heart of the leader. Communication that is faked is false and will do more harm than good. To open a path for followers to follow, the leader must proactively search out ways to improve and impart communication that not only manifests vision and constancy of purpose, but also displays the trust and respect the leader has for followers.
Here are some of the ways effective leaders consistently sharpen and enhance communication skills.
- Pay attention to followers and showing an interest in their welfare and development.
- Give followers the big picture. Followers need and want to know the vision, mission and goal of the leader. Including not only the “what” but the “why.” And equally as vital, followers need to know where they fit in and why they are important to the success of the organization.
- Encourage input and ideas from followers. Solicit, listen to and act on goal-related ideas from followers.
- Provide followers with constructive feedback and coach them on how they can participate in achieving the vision of the leader.
- Show followers they are valued by consistently including them in the process of progress.
- Encourage followers to express their ideas, concerns and fears without fear of negative consequences.
Use Effective Communication to Start Making History.
Effective leaders open lines of communication and create a respectful, transparent environment in which followers are informed, involved and empowered to offer their viewpoints to the leader. When a leader communicates honestly and effectively, information flows freely up and down the organization, new ideas proliferate, followers are willing step up with their best efforts and a mutual trust and respect is created.
The secret to successful leadership is to be a master communicator. Master communicators create consensus, plant seeds of success and offer and accept solutions. In the end the successful leader uses communication to provide the followers with a clear sense of involvement and purpose, giving them a reason for them to follow the leader.