When was the last time somebody changed your life?
Perhaps it was a teacher at school who saw your potential. Or a mentor who took you under their wing. Or maybe it was someone slightly more removed but still important. Maybe you read a story about someone you admire, and something clicked, and the next morning you got up and changed your own life.
Whatever it was, hold onto it while you read this article. Because that’s what leadership and leadership communication is about. It’s difficult to remember that when we live in a society that worships leadership. Faced with the countless biographies and fascination around incredible leaders of past and present, it can be difficult to think of yourself as a leader. That’s why leadership educator Drew Dudley argues that we need to redefine leaders as people who simply make others’ lives better. Who inspire their followers with a vision. And to do that, you need two things: a clear message and trust.
Let’s have a look at each of these in detail.
Leadership Communication – Building A Clear Message and Vision
How is it possible that people feel so strongly about leaders they’ve never met before? How did leaders like Martin Luther King and Aung San Suu Kyi lead people who never met them in person?
If we look a little closer, we can see the answer to these questions lies in one crucial thing that great leaders do: clearly articulate a vision and a certain set of values. Companies are no different, and your first critical task as a leader – to clearly articulate your company goals, vision, and values to employees. But where do you start? In Simon Sinek’s TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, he says that too many leaders focus on what they do and how they do it. But he found that truly inspirational leaders start with the why:
“What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”
So what’s your why? What’s your company’s why? And how do you infuse your ‘why’ into everything you do: your products, your services, your branding, how you hire, how you train, and how you work? At the end of the day, this has to be through consistent and efficient leadership communication and action. You have to articulate your company goals and then integrate your mission and values into your company’s day-to-day activities. You have to use your leadership communication skills to help your employees understand how the vision and values fit into their work and how their company operates. Here are some ways you can start:
Incorporate your mission and vision into your training:
Starbucks is famous for its incredible training program. That’s because Starbucks’ key mission is to provide coffee with amazing customer service.
To do this, they have to invest in the people providing that service. Not only do they call their employees ‘partners’ and make them active agents of their mission, each new hire goes through the “Starbucks Experience” where they learn about the coffee, how it’s harvested and roasted, and how Starbucks deals with its farmers. New baristas must pass a certification exam, and each stage of a partner’s career is accompanied by further training, including emotional intelligence and management training.
Through this structured program of training, Starbucks equips its staff to deliver on its values of customer service.
You can adopt this approach yourself by making sure the onboarding process and materials for your new hires reflect your company’s values.
Build your values into your policies and procedures:
Nucor today is the largest steel producer in the United States, but it started off as a much smaller company facing off against the industry incumbent Bethlehem Steel.
As part of their journey, they adopted the values of working together and eliminating hierarchy to reach their goal of being the safest, highest quality, lowest cost, most productive and most profitable steel products company in the world.
And they’ve built these values into their policies and procedures. For example, everyone except for safety supervisors and visitors wears the same color hard hats, and executives have fewer perks than frontline workers.
You can do this too with key employee policies.
Incorporate your company’s goals into your team’s work:
In our Ultimate Guide to Boosting Performance through Daily and Weekly Reports, we spoke about how the best managers we beta-tested Status with used it to powerfully engage their team.
They did this by regularly communicating with their employees on how their individual work contributed to the team’s and the company’s broader mission.
This helped everyone to understand how their work helped the team progress towards its goals, giving their work context and meaning and driving employee engagement.
You can do this by regularly speaking with your employees on how their work sits in relation to the company’s goals, and incorporating your vision and values into project updates and KPIs.
Build your company’s values and goals into ongoing performance feedback:
When you sit down with your employees to develop their performance goals, use your company’s values and mission as a guide. For example, if one of your company’s values is to make complex processes simpler, then a team leader’s performance goal might be to examine and streamline their team’s current working habits and environment and cut down on meetings by 10%.
For more on ongoing performance feedback and performance management, check out Performance Management for the Digital Age and Use these Performance Feedback Examples to Create a High Performing Team.As you can see, articulating your company’s vision and values has to be more than just a page on your website. The first step in powerful leadership communication is to find and define your ‘why’, and then build it into every facet of your company and work.
The second step is building leadership transparency and trust.
Building Leadership Transparency and Trust
In their book The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner state that the first law of leadership is: “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.”
This law strikes at the heart of how to provide leadership and leadership communication. For your message to be effective, it has to be believed. That means that you as a leader have to be trusted.
And while trust isn’t quantifiable or measurable, its organizational power cannot be underestimated. In one of Kouzes and Posner’s surveys, they found that managers who were trusted and perceived to have high credibility had an incredible effect on their employees. Those employees were “significantly more likely to feel proud about their organization, feel a high degree of team spirit, feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the organization, and be motivated by shared values and intrinsic factors.”
In contrast, leaders with little credibility made their employees feel unsupported and underappreciated.
Clearly, aside from having a powerful message, building trust and credibility is a critical leadership communication skill. After all, that’s the reason why in most democratic systems, leaders can be toppled by a motion or vote of no confidence.So how do you build trust?
As many people are quick to point out, building trust is a slow and ongoing process, while all it takes to lose trust is a single mistake. But like all processes, building trust can be broken down into a number of steps:
Step 1: Be Fair and ‘Walk the Walk’.
People trust leaders who are consistent and fair with their judgment. That means sticking to stated policies and procedures for everyone, or changing policies and procedures for everyone when they don’t work. On top of this, it’s important to demonstrate that you truly believe in your message and your company’s values and goals. After all, why should your employees or team members share your vision if you don’t yourself?
Model the way that you want your company and team to go. As Kouzes and Posner state: “Eloquent speeches about common values aren’t nearly enough… Leader’s deeds are far more important than their words.”
The only way you’ll be able to successfully walk the walk is to genuinely try and act according to your values and the company mission. However, it also helps to communicate with your team about what you’re doing and why so that they can understand this process more clearly. If you’ve read our Ultimate Guide to Boosting Culture and Performance through Daily and Weekly Updates and are enjoying the benefits of regular reports, consider writing and sharing your own report as a leader.
Step 2: Be Honest and Transparent.
Or as corporate trainer Jon Gordon states: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.” When you keep information from your employees, it sends a message that you don’t trust them with that information. Conversely, when you openly share important and sensitive company news, it shows that you value them as partners in the company. And as we discussed in 7 Proven Ways to Tackle Internal Communication Challenges, there are many benefits to transparently sharing company facts and figures with your employees. Not only does this allow them to do their work better, it also allows them to take ownership and become further engaged with the company’s mission and success. So take the time to regularly share news with your whole company.
Step 3: Show That You Care.
When you lead a company or a team, you’re asking people to follow you on a mission. You’re asking people to trust you and put their faith in your leadership and decision-making. This means that they need to trust that when you make those crucial decisions, that you understand their interests and values and will take them into account.
In Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind’s article Leadership is a Conversation, they explore turning leadership communication into a conversation. They note that having two-way communication in the workplace builds intimacy, engagement and passion, turning your employees into brand ambassadors for you and the company. So here are three simple steps that you can incorporate into your daily work to build conversation and show your employees that you care.
1. Make time to communicate. We live in a society that glorifies busyness, but at the end of the day, everyone still has the same 24 hours and 7 days in a week to work with. That means that what you do with your time sends a very strong message. So if you can consistently fit time into your crazy schedule to talk and communicate with your team members, whether it be at a team meeting or a presentation or through one-on-one meetings, you’ll be demonstrating that you genuinely care for and want to support your team members.
2. Listen. As we discussed earlier, two-way communication in the workplace is vital to creating conversation and passion about your company. So when you take time to meet with your team members, make sure it’s not just you speaking. Build a habit of asking them how they’re going and if they have any suggestions for improvements. Run regular employee questionnaires and surveys to check in on the health of your team and company. Not only will this help you to dynamically lead and communicate based on your employees’ needs, your employees will also feel more valued and more engaged in the direction of the company.
3. Recognize and reward behaviors that embody the company’s vision and mission. Many companies such as Telstra run quarterly or annual rewards recognizing team members who have gone above and beyond or who have exemplified company values. This is a great way to provide recognition and encouragement for valuable employees who share your company vision and values.
For more on leadership and communication, have a look at How to Grow your Company through Servant Leadership, How to Provide Performance Feedback, and Performance Management for the Digital Age – How to Grow your Team and Unleash their Potential.