More than ever, communication is an essential fluency for the future-ready leader.
In our last blog on the five fluencies of The New Language of Leadership, we share our perspective and words on Communication.
Communications has always been a foundational attribute of Leadership.It’s evergreen and constantly connected to our commonly-held archetype of purposeful and inspiring leaders.It’s often the most visible way in which leadership is seen and experienced.When we think back to great leaders we’veseen or had the chance to work with, a common praise we would heap on those leaders would be, “Sally was a great communicator,” or, “Steve had such a gift with words.”
There may have been an era when we held a bias that only certain leaders were exceptional communicators. But today, it is an undeniable imperative. As we enter the finishing straight of 2020, we accept that work is more complex, personal, distributed, and uncertain. What it calls for, more than ever, is great leaders to be great communicators, across all mediums and at all times.
As the Founders of Fluency, we’vealways valued communication as a trait and functional capability. I mean, we both worked in the field of communications for more than 20 years each prior to forming our company, so not putting high on the list of leadership attributes would be a bit disingenuous.
But when we peel it back, it’snot just our view. More than ever, communication is an essential fluency for the future-ready leader.
Communication Starts With Presence
According to Bob Johansen, author of the seminal book The New Leadership Literacies, leaders will need to develop their own brand of blended-reality presence in the workplace, through which communications is the energy source.
What is presence? It is earning attention, but not in a loud way. When a person with presence speaks, people listen not because they must, but because they choose to and are compelled to. Presence is not bravado or ego or a natural gift of language. It comes from a place of credibility and authenticity. It’s nurtured through experience, commitment and follow–through.
Having presence requires leaders to show up with a well-balanced combination of many factors: confidence, enthusiasm, humility, predictability, clarity, curiosity, and the right tone-setting energy. Not only in a room – but on Zoom meetings, phone calls, through written communication, and video. Great communicators are truly platform-agnostic.
So when we take this insight and blend it with the evergreen requirement of communications, leaders now need to cultivate presence, and be present, when they communicate across all mediums when face–to–face isn’t available.
At the same time,we need to release ourselves of the shackles of the past and our belief that communication is only best served face-to-face. Instead, we need to embrace that it’s the quality of the communication that connects us, not the platform or vehicle by which it’s delivered. If people can feel that you are real, honest and vulnerable and that you care, you will be successful. If they can see you are present and are listening, you will build trust and respect. If you are curious and are seeking to understand, then you will be rewarded with engagement and alignment from your team.
Context Is Everything
Our society’s massive change and persistent uncertainty creates the need for ongoing, meaningful communication that gets “under the hood.” In our over-connected world,we pretty much always know what’s happening, but the challenge is that we need to know why it is happening.
People need context, particularly when navigating through the unknownwhere emotions are high and there is a lot at stake. They need to understand why decisions are being made, how things will change, and what role they play. They need to be involved and consulted in the decisions that impact them, otherwise they will observe and dismiss more than they will engage and support.
Communication Requires Heart
This level of communication builds trusting relationships and commitment. It speaks to the heart and minds of people. And it requires leaders to tap into their humanity to craft and deliver messages that can navigate their way into the hearts of their teams.
Here’s a simple image to use: If you are communicating the what (facts, figures, details, dates), you are speaking to people’s brains. It’s useful and purposeful, but it is simply data that is stored (and sometimes quickly deleted) and often doesn’t come with the right frame to be usable.
But when you communicate the why (thinking, strategy, vision, feeling), then you connect to people’s hearts. There you will build the connection that provides meaning, engagement and belief.
We all might roll our eyes at the overcooked cliché, “this story comes from the heart” but it couldn’t be truer. When leaders show up as heart-led storytellers that connect to the why and deliver messages and stories with humanity front and centre, they are more often than not going to win the hearts (and minds) of their people.
Three Practices of Future-Ready Leaders
Frequent: You need to show up and be present everywhere at all times across all media. It’s a sense and commitment to “be there when you’re not there.” You step over the self-limiting belief that you can’t make this commitment, because in today’s context you can’t overcommunicate. Even when there is “no news” you should be checking in with people, at least once a week. Frequency builds predictability, and predictability earns trust.
Authentic: We’re all human – your communication must be real, genuine and honest, like any good human. People can sniff out inauthenticity like Monday’sfish on an airport restaurant menu. Put yourself in the stories you tell. Be vulnerable about how you are feeling about things – it gives your team permission to do the same. Your role it not to paint a rosy picture – it’s to have authentic and sometimes hard conversations. And always sense-check your story before you put it out there; if you don’t believe the story and it doesn’t feel authentic, then you can’t expect anybody else to believe it.
Self–Confident: To instill confidence in others, leaders need to be confident about the stories we are sharing and how we are showing up. To do that we need a healthy store of self–confidence to push us forward and into those spotlights. It is hard to show up and be authentic, present and curious if you are distracted or consumed with worry.
To grow your communications presence as a leader, here are some questions to reflect on:
Right now, how much of your communication is about the “what” and how much is about the “why”?
Where would your team say you have a presence through communication? Where are you missing? Where are they looking for you?
Who can help you build your self-confidence to fuel your communications?