This blog is presented by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.
You need look no further than Brexit to see why effective leadership communication matters. Between them, the heads of the UK’s two main political parties have been described as robotic, opaque, nebulous, indecisive and invisible. Opinion polls say neither’s got what it takes to be prime minister.
Image and substance matter in politics and the ability to communicate well is an important element of both. It’s also a vital attribute for business leaders, especially at a time when people are looking to them as an important source of trust and a driver of change.
Taking the lead
According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 58% of employees look to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues. Further, 71% believe it’s critically important for “my CEO” to respond to challenging times.
Edelman says the public agrees, with 76% wanting CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it. And 73% believe a company can take actions that increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.
It’s an opportunity for business leaders to take centre stage. How they come across to their own people is important. They need to be authentic. But that doesn’t mean becoming something or someone they’re not.
Internal communicators neeD to understand the communication strengths of their leaders and bring these to the fore. Here are four ways they can do that:
Understand their priorities and passions. A key first step is knowing what’s on a leader’s mind and what gets them fired up about their business. These are the raw ingredients for effective and authentic leadership communication.
Craft a consistent message. Once their priorities and passions are clear, it’s important to translate these into a message they can deliver coherently, consistently and with conviction. That doesn’t mean spoon-feeding every word – instead, make them building blocks that leaders can shape in a way that works for them.
Choose channels wisely. Some leaders love the lure of a crowd, while some prefer a more intimate conversation with their people. Video makes some shine and some wilt. A blog could be a better bet. As part of getting to know leaders, understand how they’ll come across best – and, critically, make sure that’s compatible with their audience. However much the leader may like a video message, it’s no good if people don’t have the time or means to watch it.
Listen and learn. It’s crucial to know what works well and what doesn’t – and to share this with leaders so they understand the impact they have. A vital part of the internal communicator’s relationship with their leader is being able to talk candidly about what employees think, so they’re not blindsided by any issues. Internal communicators play a critical role by being the eyes and ears of their organisation.
Truly authentic leaders can bring out the best in their organisations because they foster levels of trust and confidence that can lead to better business results and an enhanced reputation. One of the most important things an internal communicator can do is bring out the best in them.
Neil Jenkins has worked in internal communications in the UK for over 20 years, including senior roles at Siemens, Vodafone, Coca-Cola and BT.