Communications skills have never been more important. Today there are multiple platforms to help develop those skills, yet many top executives still believe that they aren’t very good at it. They don’t think they are as influential as they would like to be, they are often faced with organizational silos that block communication, and can’t figure out how to customize messages to target different stakeholders.
“It is ironic that at a time when we have ‘tried and true’ communication tools as well as many new ones — including online platforms and video conferencing– that today’s leaders face the same communication challenges that have been around for generations,” says Gail Meneley, principal and co-founder of Shields Meneley Partners, a career transition and coaching firm that works exclusively with the C-Suite. “Communicating moredoesn’t solve the problem. It takes work to master this all-important skill.”
The core of effective leadership is recognizing that we can’t leave our humanity at the door. We must engage the hearts and minds of employees by helping them see and share our vision. Only then can we motivate them to act on that vision to drive the results we all seek.
“To capture the attention of others and facilitate behavioral change, you must influence emotion to motivate action,” writes Forbes.
Although obvious, to influence others you must communicate clearly and simply. If your message is muddled, your audience will be, too. Make sure your messages are short and to the point. The fewer words, the more weight each one carries. Prepare ahead of time and each time you review your message, ask yourself what you can simplify. Consider the book: Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, by Joseph McCormack as a great way to think about it.
Employees respect and follow leaders who are confident. After the long climb up the corporate ladder, most top leaders are fairly confident. But leaders are people, too, and still have insecurities that pop up from time to time. As a less experienced leader, you may need to “fake it till you make it” because as you slowly build your self-confidence, others will see it and believe in you, too. If you aren’t clear about what you want to communicate, and don’t believe your own message, how can you expect your employees to believe? You can’t.
Breaking the Chains of Silos
Silos interfere with team unity and strategic alignment and can have a major impact on business results. They often indicate a team that focuses only on internal political matters and protecting “turf.” Leaders must communicate this structure is dysfunctional, a huge barrier to organizational success, and they are going to be broken down. The goal should be to shift everyone’s focus – including members of the senior team – to external customers, markets, threats, and opportunities.
“A siloed organization can’t act quickly or take advantage of opportunities,” writes Salesforce. “When information isn’t freely shared, your business can’t make informed, data-driven decisions.”
Leaders need to convince their direct reports that a free-flow of information will ultimately help that group and the organization. Former Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally was brilliant at this and created a culture of information sharing and teams helping other teams. He created a mechanism to drive a free and eager exchange of information between silos.
Customized Communications Tips
Recognizing the importance of tailored communications is often a challenge to top leaders. Different audiences have different priorities. After all, the priorities of a cafeteria employee often differ from those of a chief financial officer at the same company. It just makes sense for leaders to deliver messages that are relevant to each cohort to getting their jobs done.
“We often see organizations using the same blanket messages for all different audiences,” writes global public relations firm Edelman. “A lack of message differentiation means your message will most likely fall on deaf ears.”
Edelman offers a strategic messaging focus for the different audiences:
- Employees: Relationship-building
- Clients: Partnership
- Consumers: Personalized interactions
- Investors: Transparency
“Never has clear communication been more important. We are bombarded by messages from all media channels that translate into more, not better. And we aren’t born with the innate ability to communicate. It is a skill that requires attention, development and practice,” explains Meneley. “We coach our clients on the differences between various communication platforms and methods. Then, we help them find the right path to develop their expertise.”