If You Can't Communicate, You Can't Lead (Part 2)
Communication is key to a leader’s success. In a recent post, I reviewed some of the reasons it is extremely difficult to communicate well. My list of contributing factors included: scope, time pressures, bias and complexity. Regardless of the difficulties, leaders must learn to communicate.
Here are my top suggestions to improve as a communicator.
Prepare before you speak. Too many leaders wing it when they have a chance to communicate. I’ve been guilty of this more than I would like to admit. It is like an athlete who relies too much on his or her talent and ignores the weight room. Many leaders can communicate effectively without preparation. However, the great ones prepare. What can a talented athlete accomplish with adequate preparation? What can a leader accomplish when preparation meets opportunity?
Simplify the message. Simple sells. Simple communicates. This is not to be confused with being simplistic. The best leaders don’t dumb down the message; they purify it and distill it to its essence. Then, with laser-like precision the best leaders share their message and it goes straight to the heart of their intended audience. A complicated message is often the product of an unsure or unprepared leader. (See my post, Simplify.)
Repeat the message. In an organizational setting, business, non-profit, or even a family, repetition is your friend. Vision leaks and so do less profound messages. If the message is important enough for a leader to invest his or her time sharing it, it is worth repeating. During a typical day, how often do you communicate critical messages? (e.g., Vision, Values, Key Strategies) Any message you are not reinforcing daily will likely be lost in the clutter of the day.
Master cascading communications. If a message is important, you will want to be sure everyone is in the know. So, how do you ensure your message permeates the entire organization? Great leaders create clear expectations for leaders at all levels to communicate the same message, often within a certain timeframe. High performance hangs in the balance. If everyone is not clear on a crucial message, or the timing is off, exceptional execution is highly unlikely.
Use multiple methods. People are not all like us. Nor do they think and communicate like us. And, to make matters more challenging, different people receive and process information differently. Therefore, leaders must be willing and able to modify our methods for various audiences. If we are unwilling or unable to do so, our message will never achieve its intended affect. I wrote about this previously in a post entitled 7 Ways to Help People Catch Your Vision.
Walk the talk. Leaders can mistakenly believe if we say the right things, we will communicate well. Unfortunately, this is not true. Our actions communicate more than our words. What hangs in the balance is more than the message we hope to advance; our credibility as a leader is at stake. If people see a disconnect between what we say and what we do, we have communicated volumes to our would-be followers. Our words matter, but our actions matter more. People always watch the leader.
My advice to any leader who desires more opportunity and more influence – learn to communicate well. It is an investment of time and energy you will never regret.
For more on this topic, you can check out my previous posts on Communications.