Without communication you cannot lead. You just end up taking a walk on your own. Communication has been central to the “social process” of all great leaders.
“One can lack any of the qualities of an organizer – with one exception – and still be effective and successful. That exception is the art of communication. It does not matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate to your people. In that event you are not even a failure. You’re just not there. Communication with others takes place when they understand what you’re trying to get across to them. If they don’t understand, then you are not communicating regardless of your words, pictures or anything else. People only understand things in terms of their experience, which means that you must get within their experience.” – Saul Alinsky, “Rules for Radicals”
Leaders are always communicating. Without communication leadership fails. Described below are the 8 practices that successful communicators use to engage others in their vision and move them to action.
1. Everything Communicates
When it comes to leadership everything communicates. Every word. Every action. Every Emotion. Every statement. Leaders are constantly watched. Everything a leaders says and does sends a message, gets analysed and interpreted. Everything a leader says and does is amplified.
As a leader it’s important that you’re aware of how your words and behaviours impact others. Leaders adjust their words and behaviours in support of their vision and goals.
2. Focus More on the Why and Less on the How
Great leaders focus on communicating the why before communicating the how. Often leaders spend too much time communicating the how and in the process neglect communicating the why. It’s the “why” that connects people to a larger purpose. It answers the question “Is what I’m doing important?” and “Do I matter?”. If you want to empower others to act you need to spend time on the why. Focus your communication on the why, spend less time on the how.
3. Make the WIIFM Clear
All communication is personal. People will interpret your message from within their unique perspective and circumstance. This means you must to answer their WIIFM question – “What’s In It For Me?”. Effective communication resonates with the needs and concerns of the audience. Your communication will be successful if you answer the WIIFM question early and often.
4. Tell Stories
Stories create community and bind us together. Stories break though the noise and grab people’s attention. Stories persuade and influence, more than facts and figures ever could. Stories engage the audience emotionally and move them to action. Stories are easily shared. Great leaders have always told stories and fables to get their message across. Always try to weave relevant stories into your message.
5. Example is the Best Communication Tool
You’re leading by example all the time. People always look to the leader for the example. This provides you with an opportunity to model the attitudes, behaviours and actions you’re seeking from others. For example, if you focus on the customer, so will everyone else. Ensure that your example move other to act and behave in ways that supports your vision and goals.
6. Create Opportunities for Dialogue
Communication is a two-way process. Listening is an important part of that process. The reality is that you’ve not communicated until you get feedback from your audience. Actively seek feedback. Actively elicit the opinions of others. Seek to create opportunities for dialogue whenever possible. Give people an opportunity to share their concerns and to answer their questions. Two-way communication increases the commitment and buy-in to your message. Make space in your communication strategy and agenda for meaningful dialogue.
7. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Fire and forget is not communication strategy. People must hear the same message 5 – 9 times before they commit to making a change. The first time you communicate people are wondering if you were serious. They’re not sure if you’re committed or if this is just going to be another management fad, here today gone tomorrow. People need to hear that same message between 5 – 9 times before they take it seriously. You will need to repeat your message often before you begin to see a change in attitude and behaviour. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Repeat. Often.
8. Communicate with Three Goals in Mind
When leaders communicate they do so with the following three goals in mind:
- Inform: This is the rational part of your message. This requires that you address the why, what, how as appropriate. Communication needs to inform the audience by making the message simple to understand and clear as to the implications.
- Inspire: This is the emotional part of message. Effective communication inspires by providing a compelling picture of the future, supports a meaningful purpose.
- Engage: Communication is necessary but not sufficient. To engage people your message must also include a call to action. What are the next steps? What actions are you expecting people to take? What changes are you asking for?
So how are you doing. . .
- Are you giving sufficient attention to the quality of your leadership communication?
- What 3 of these 8 communication practices will you commit to focus on and improve in the weeks ahead?