Leaders - time to step up your communication

As we settle into a new year, it’s an opportunity for you to reflect on, and refine, the impact you are making as a leader. Here are some thoughts that may help you to re-vitalize the way you communicate.

SEIZE THE DAY - Review your style. Don't plateau. Today, good may not be good enough.

Your leadership is as effective as your ability to express it. Your communication style plays an integral role in determining your employees' commitment, loyalty and performance. If you are not happy with the results from a recent Employee Satisfaction Survey, or with the current levels of motivation and commitment within your team or organisation, take some time out to reflect on how you come across to others. Is your leadership communication style keeping up with the demands now being placed on it?

Strong evidence from research links leadership presence, vocal tone and vocal variety with perceptions of credibility, likeability, authority and trustworthiness. These are big ticket items for any leader in any walk of life. Ignore these at your peril. Just take a look at the array of current political performers on the local and global stage. People do not warm to the message if politicians can't come across as spontaneous, genuine, warm and engaging. Research tells us that people want their leaders to be dynamic, optimistic and inspiring.

Exercise your mind in this space. From today start to give your leadership communication the attention it deserves. To retain your talented people and to win their respect, loyalty and commitment, and, to engage effectively with stakeholders and customers, you need to be an authentic, engaging and dynamic communicator.

STEP IT UP. Don’t settle for the same old communication approaches, imagery and war stories. Great leader/communicators are stimulating thinkers who use fresh, jargon-free language. They avoid over-used business platitudes. They make an effort to speak vividly to encourage fresh insights and perspectives.

People can tell when you are on automatic pilot. It is not enough to know your stuff. Good communication is all about how you make your narratives resonate with others. As Goleman, Boyatis & McKee noted: “Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us." They remind us that "Great leadership works through emotions … even if [leaders] get everything else just right, if [they] fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could.” This year pay more attention to how emotion works in the process of engaging, persuading and influencing.

STRENGTHEN YOUR SKILL SET. When explaining, presenting, negotiating, influencing, motivating and persuading (all the things a leader spends most of his or her time doing daily) you need much more than just a grasp of your subject matter and the ability to reflect on your experience.

When we work with individuals and groups of leaders to improve their impact, the most common observation and learning raised with us is “I always thought that to communicate well all I needed was a good script or set of ideas, maybe a few stories and that was enough…I now understand that this is just the beginning.”

Having a cogent set of ideas and learning how to structure them for impact (this takes work), falls into the craft of good communication or presentation skills. It's obvious that you must master this. However, it is the artistry of your delivery where the power to move hearts resides. The territory of the inspirational communicator is too often left vacant because a speaker lacks artfulness.

Most people aspiring to be effective leaders know this is the territory they should inhabit. Few make the effort required. Whilst often in our culture the 'feeling' aspect of leadership communication gets downplayed, if we have a choice, we want our leaders to connect on an emotional level - to move us- to be inspiring. Remember great communication is more than a storyline. It requires style as well as substance. Try, this year, to be more artful in the way you express your leadership message.

SHIFT TO THE FUTURE – don’t dwell in the past. As a leader don't get stuck in the past going over old narratives. By all means learn from them and then move on. Leaders help shift perspectives and provide powerful visions so people can let go of the past. Your well expressed new vision helps your people feel sufficiently motivated, energized and confident to take the necessary steps to move forward. These steps might be risky, bold and feel beyond the current comfort zone of individuals but without such daring action, breakthroughs are unlikely to happen. It's the leaders job to inspire such confidence for action.

As a leader, try to encourage frequent conversations that embrace future possibility. This year ask more often "What if?'. State more frequently "I think it's possible to...". Express confidence "This team is capable of...". Show the way "We will become leaders in our field if...". Be optimistic "I believe we can...". Dare to embrace the future with confidence everyday and see what happens.

And finally, SHOW INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION. We often hear people describe leaders with charisma as having the ability to make a person feel as if he or she is the only person in the room. People like attention. They like to be treated as individuals. As their leader, people want to see you make a genuine effort to reach out to them. They know when you fake it. Know your people better. Some require more attention more often than others. Learn about people's preferences, values, and aspirations. Tune into them. Be clear about what you want from them; when you want it and express confidence that it wil be delivered in the right way.

Try some of these suggestions and you'll be well on the way to making this year memorable. Remember in tough times we need inspirational leaders more than ever. Re-set your standards for effective leadership communication. Surprise yourself. As Steve Job's once famously advised "Don't settle."

Do you have a question or a comment? Do you have any suggestions for future topics? Please email veronica@theatreofleadership.com. If you would like to discuss how we might help you, don't hesitate to call on 03 9699 6444. We look forward to hearing from you.